The School of Light

Noor Madrasa- The School of Light
Noor Madrasa- The School of Light

Jambo! Habari Gani? Mzuri? Mzuri! And that was it. My level of competency in Swahili reached a grand level of four words. And that’s where verbal communication ended. I didn’t literally comprehend what the children were saying, but their eyes expressed all that needed to be heard. Our relationships weren’t based on anything that could be said, rather were built upon tight embraces, energetic high fives, and the silence in-between that spoke volumes in a crowded room of ninety broken hearts.

Each child has a story. Suffering arrives in various forms: abuse, the death or absence of both parents, homelessness, famine, prostitution, disease, and so forth, but Love never dies. I recall my first encounter, the anxiety rising high in my chest as I walked through the narrow slums- head down, avoiding eye-contact with my back-pack slung in-front of my chest- excitement, fear, and doubt were tangled into a ball of anxiety rising up and into my throat. Until we finally arrived and all the voices in my mind were silenced by an embrace so tight, that I forgot who I was, where I was, and why I was. I simply just was. His name was Muhammed, he was probably no older than 4 years old, wearing a plaid-stained shirt and a smile that radiated a want to be loved and to love.

He wasn’t the only child who expressed such desires, in fact all of them did. Perhaps the only difference was that age brought with it a sense of trust or lack of trust- a need for tactile affection verses a need for verbal validation. But at the end of the day, the desire for love is rooted in an up-bringing where affection simply does not exist.

Simultaneous with our service site visits, I was required to formulate a research project, Capstone, where I used primary sources to develop a perspective around a topic of my choice. Evidently, my experiences with the children of Noor became my focus, for my curiosity arises in attempting to understand the interplay between affection and the psychological development in a child’s life. How did the lack of affection affect a child’s behaviour? Their worldview? Their ability to trust?

My over-arching question stood as follows: How does the lack of affection affect a child’s psychological development?

I attained my data through hands-on observations working with the children, interviews with the Madrasa’s head teacher, principal (Madam Vickie), Early Childhood Development Specialists at Frigoken, and ECD specialists who happened to be our mentors at Global Encounters and the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa.

To summarize my findings, I discovered that with a lack of affection in the pivotal years of a child’s development, brings with it a sense of vulnerability. This vulnerability triggers a need for validation and constant control. I worked with a little girl, who displayed this want in her fight for tactile affection. She would instantly become aggressive whenever another child, her friends, were receiving more affection than she was. This behavioural reaction stems from a lack of security present throughout a child’s early years.

But this notion of vulnerability doesn’t only have one response, many children will isolate themselves, in fear of another understanding or relating to their pain- to their open wounds. However, others crave to be understood, heard, and nurtured. From my observations, with the passing of age, children who’ve experienced trauma and haven’t received the love essential for their development, tend to be more closed off than the younger ones. I infer that this also triggers a lack of trust; in many cases with the older students building trust was a process and in most scenarios was not acquired immediately.

That being said, all of these findings are just a surface level understanding of an evolving concept truly rooted in the famous debate of nature verses nurture. As I continue to research and explore such a broad concept, I realize that I may never find an answer, but the exploration itself provides me with a better understanding of not only child development but also the human condition.

Love is a universal need, not a want. And as I reflect on my research, I realize that not only children in poverty crave affection- we all do. No matter where you live in the world, we all lack it. Why? Well that’s another research question in itself, but I do know one thing for sure: beyond words and verbal and non-verbal language, is the language of love. And that language everyone understands.

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One thought on “The School of Light

  1. Dear Malika,

    You seem to have this tendency to transcend my expectations with everyone one of your blog posts, for your writing continues to leave my mind awestruck- even after my third reading of it. Although I’ve heard of you speak of your experience in Mombasa, Kenya, I feel that I’ve only just begun to comprehend what you have experienced. What beautiful manipulation of the English language! I found myself consistently rereading your beautifully woven sentences, if only to relish in their majesty. I had never considered the level of vulnerability of individuals who lacked affection in their lives, particularly children who had never known love; perhaps it’s due to my inexperience. Upon reading about your Passion towards such an experience, along with your highbrow Reason, I feel that I may have been able to establish a connection- however small- towards your most insightful experience in Mombasa, Kenya.

    I’m utterly amazed by your particular prowess in conveying your pathos. Whenever I encounter a phrase in your writing that contains pathos, the entirety of my focus is, without fail, wrapped in your powerful emotions that are present in your writing. Your first paragraph, describing the limited level of verbal communication between yourself and the children in Noor, added tremendously to your description of a tight embrace; it reminded me especially of the “Language of the World” that is present in Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”. Your pronounced style of pathos is something that, despite having read your other blog posts, I still am unable to completely understand. It contains beautiful intricacy in it’s simplicity. What I most value about your pathos, however, is your honesty in your pathos. I cannot help but accept the sincerity with which you present your emotions in your brilliant writing; it’s the quality which I highly covet, and I believe it to be an invaluable gift to be able to continually see it in your writing.

    After having read through your Passion, my frenzied heart was ill-prepared for your Reason. Your pensive connections were initially lost on my mind, and it took an entire second reading to be able to fully comprehend your words; my first reading resulted in only being a read to appreciate the elegance of your writing piece. The connection between love and vulnerability was, as I have mentioned earlier, something that had never crossed my mind before. The idea to begin with passion, and after, move on to reason, proved to be nothing short of brilliant: by the time you began relaying your findings on the human condition, I was able to understand your connections due to my exposure to the emotions you had felt on your journey. Often, there’s difficulty in objectively considering one’s own experiences, specifically your own experience for such pure intentions, and the thought of deriving knowledge on the human condition from one’s humanitarian actions seems to be nigh impossible, in my own opinion. But you succeeded in doing so.

    In terms of something to work on, I’d like to propose something which you could add to your post, mainly to fulfill my own selfish desires: how did younger children manage to find trust in others, despite a lack of love? Reading your post, I’ve been wondering about the connection between love and trust, particularly in individuals with limited experience. Would a lack of love prompt a lack of trust, due to the individual being unable to fully connect with another? Or would it lead to an indulgence in trust, where the individual yearns for connection, and therefore, would openly trust all who come their way in order to fulfill that necessity?

    Overall, I found this piece, in all it’s elegance, to be a pure mixture between Passion and Reason. You not only engaged my mind, but my heart along with it. I was able to see what I believed to be your character in your writing: it’s sympathy, care for the needs of others, along with it’s understanding. To be completely honest, your character has been the subject of my admiration from the first moment of my first year in AP LA; from the first day, when we were analyzing an article about the ongoing Canadian election. From then, I’ve learned quite a lot about sympathy and empathy from simple observation of your character. Even during the times where I was not directly interacting with you, I was able to learn from your actions, and your expression of character. During those times, I believe you were not speaking any verbal language; rather, you were speaking a language that would exceed verbal communication: the language of emotion, of sympathy and empathy.

    And that language, everyone understands.



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