Volume 25/1996-1997 contents | Duke Policy News Online | Sanford Institute

We want teachers and parents reading this to the kids so they can learn respect for children from other countries.


Cross-Cultural ABCs

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 countries.

"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."

Using color 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 a rainbow.

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.

Ajmera is 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 Service.

Volume 25/1996-1997 contents | Duke Policy News Online | Sanford Institute