teachers and parents reading this to the
kids so they can learn respect
for children from other countries.
Maya Ajmera (G'93) believes that understanding and acceptance of other
cultures can and should be taught at an early age. So she created SHAKTI
for Children, a nonprofit organization, and published an extraordinary
four-color illustrated book. Children from Australia to Zimbabwe: A
Photographic Journey Around the World, written with Anna Rhesa Versola,
includes pictures and stories about the lives of young people in 25
"In elementary schools, the curriculum focus on the rest of
the world is fairly isolated," Ajmera said. "I wanted to do something
that would integrate a look at countries around the world. We want
teachers and parents reading this to the kids so they can learn respect
for children from other countries and to think of themselves as global
citizens as well as citizens of the United States."
photographs and written descriptions, the book runs through the alphabet
focusing on one country per letter. A brief text explains some of the
history and culture of the country and gives a general impression of how
children live there. For Qatar, readers can learn about traditional
Muslim practices for children. For Western Samoa, the text describes
Prize Day at the schools and the type of clothes the children wear on
the humid island. The book includes a foreword by Marian Wright Edelman,
president of the Children's Defense Fund.
Ajmera wanted to show American
students about different cultures, as well as about how much children
around the world have in common. "There is a recurring theme: Families
are important to children, religion is important, having fun is
important," she said.
Ajmera said the idea of using the alphabet to
describe countries A to Z worked well, except when it came to the letter
X. There are no countries beginning with that letter, so she asked a
group of students from Forest View Elementary in Durham to describe a
mythical country called Xanadu. "Xanadu is a place of peace and love,"
wrote Jasmina Nogo, originally from Bosnia-Herzegovina. With the help of
Vanessa Davis of SHAKTI and Forest View art teacher Marylu
Flowers-Schoen, the students made a mural depicting the country. In the
mural, children of all races are playing in fields of flowers, while
other children swim, sail and surf in a beautiful ocean. Birds fly under
SHAKTI has donated more than 1,200 copies of the book to
public elementary schools across North Carolina, accompanied by a cover
letter from Gov. Jim Hunt encouraging teachers and students to use it as
a tool to learn about the world. In addition, the Children's Defense
Fund will give their 1997 national conference participants a copy of the
book, and 5,000 books will be donated to Peace Corps volunteers for
distribution to schools and libraries in the developing world.
looking for patrons to come forward to purchase discounted copies of the
book that can be presented to additional schools, community
organizations and others who otherwise couldn't afford them. The books
are available through bookstores and through SHAKTI for Children,
1-800-247-6553 or through its web page (www.shakti.org). A portion of
the book's proceeds will be donated to the Global Fund for Children for
community-based educational projects.
- Adapted from an article by Geoffrey Mock, Duke University News