What do you want to be when you grow up?

Updated: Feb 18, 2019

|Author: Evan L.||

Sometimes I worry about an admiration of America I notice here in India.

The team I work with visits schools to evaluate rainwater systems. As a part of this we talk to kids and hear small bits of their lives. Pieces of their stories, quite far from the whole picture. However, it always strikes me when the kids tell us their aspirations. These kids are still young, around seventh grade, so the dreams are fairly predictable.

The boys: engineers, IT, soldiers, police, and a few doctors

The girls: predominantly teachers and a few police and doctors

These occupations are all very respectable and probably would resemble that of a US classroom. However, these children are in a rural community on the outskirts of Bangalore in fairly poor conditions. There is tremendous resilience in the community, and they have faced and solved many problems, but I cannot help but thinking about their situation. Something that I have noticed living in India is that it bears an unfortunate similarity to the US. The station that an individual is born into determines a great deal about their future life. This is enforced here by caste but also the more familiar lack of mobility between economic groups.

Alright, now let’s flip to an American class room. Let’s imagine a similar class room in a poor neighborhood of South Seattle for example. We ask the kids the same question. What do they say? There might be a few more artistic or even amazon driven outliers, but it’s probably similar.

Do we see a pathway to that dream?

The point in all this is that nothing articulates the lack of fairness of economic disparity and the dark side of capitalism like asking a poor child what they want to be when they grow up. Sure, there are success stories about growing from poverty and becoming something huge, however, most of the time, they see a career similar to or more difficult than their parents. All of this is under cut by a clear lack of diversity in what the girls seem to aspire too. Even their dreams seem limited.

How much these kids know and their bravery just talking to us, these random strangers showing up at the school, gives me hope. I am just terrified that I know the end of the story already. There’s nothing that I can do in these four weeks I have left in India that is going to help them.

Perhaps what hurts the most is that I have no idea what I can do for the kids back home.

Even with all the time in the world.

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