Different Flowers


Resson Kantai Duff, Projects Officer

Date Published

“You are so so black! The sun must be very hot in Africa!” This was the curious awe we were greeted with when we visited over 90 children in two schools in Xiamen. I really wish we could have seen more of them. These vast schools we’re filled, not with obedient zombie children of an incomprehensible culture, but with vibrant, sociable, intelligent kids, very much like children you meet in any part of the world. For them, Africa was another world; with far away countries on the continent like Brazil, India and Kenya (which they named because they knew our roots!). Their limited knowledge about the continent was quickly remedied by reminding them about countries they already knew about, but could not place until now.

But first we had to address the first question: why are we so black? Their head parent smiled, and decided not to go into the complexities of genetics or race. Instead, she explained that we are all like different flowers, some are red, others yellow or purple. It’s not about the sun’s heat and tanning. This proved satisfactory, and the children took to this imagery almost immediately.

The beautiful flowers in this classroom reacted much the same as any child would when they saw elephants. Excitement, hyperbole, pride. When asked what tusks are used for, they talked about elephants fighting and defending themselves, about cutting food. One boy piped up “it is used by humans to make nice ivory jewels.” His classmates agreed. So did we.

Now it was time to talk about poaching…how those jewels were obtained. Like a blanket, we watched sadness and disbelief descend on the class. “So very cruel” they said. Two little boys put their faces in their hands, including the one who spoke about the jewels.

“Ivory is beautiful” we concluded, “but is it worth the cost?” The answer was unanimous. But what can little children do to help the elephants? We showed a final video, put together by Celia Ho, a twelve-year-old Chinese girl. She tells the story from a baby elephant’s perspective, explaining basic anatomy and ecology of her kind, and telling the world about the rise in ivory trade, linking it back to the effects on her species. The speaks about her “schools united against ivory trade” campaign, and invites them to join in. Finally, she sings a song she wrote herself, talking about the loss of her mother, who sends her away as she is being poached, saying, “mum’s no longer beautiful.” The story is powerful to the children as it is told by a child, and even the teachers shed some tears on one of the schools.

We leave Xiamen, feeling that the message was taken well, and responding the other teachers demanding our materials to share wider. But I know that the older flowers in this place may not respond so readily to heart-rending stories. And that is the same everywhere. They need to be reached in different ways, providing stronger arguments to their choice of investment, art collection and such. Heading to Quanzhou, this is our mission.