This is a question most of us are used to hearing. We have been asked this question since we are little - our answers represent our dreams, our aspirations, our hopes for our own future. The question also suggests that we have a choice - fireman, doctor, rock star, etc. Anything is possible.
Poverty can be defined as the absence of choice. Injustice can be defined as the removal of choice, one from another. Without choice there is no hope. Without hope there are no dreams or aspirations.
I wouldn't have thought to ask most of the people I met when I have traveled in Africa what they wanted to be when they grew up - such a question would have been absurd and insensitive to their circumstance. Prior to being asked the question there needed to be some way to restore hope - to provide options, to provide choice. 660 high school kids, sleeping in vastly overcrowded dorms, two to a bed, are working on just that -creating choice for themselves. As are the women who walk 100's of kilometres with their hungry and sick children - to seek food and medical attention so that their kids may just have some options. A young man, inticed into the army or rebel forces with the promise of a uniform and a gun - tools of choice for the desparate.
When I ask my boys what they want to be when they grow up, what I really want to hear is the limitlessness of their possibilities - I want to hear their visions, their dreams, the confidence they feel that they can be and do anything.
If I want that for my own kids, then what difference is there for those others, my neighbours. What must I do first, so that I can ask them that question. Imagine sitting with a 13 year old girl in Goma, Congo, who has had the chance to go to secondary school. Who wasn't distracted from her studies by hunger, sickness, or the threat of attack. What would her answer be?
Or the boy, who for his known life has moved from place to place avoiding the conflicts that threatened his family. Now, back in his native country, he is pleased to see his mother gaining strength as the medicines attack the TB she has been afflicted with. He also smiles as he puts on his school uniform and runs his hand over the excercise book that he has been given. What is his answer to the question now?
We in the west need to see our role in the absence of choice for millions around the world. The Governments we vote for and support, the products and services we buy, how we spend our time and resources - all have an impact on whether or not it will ever make sense to ask kids in the poorest places on earth what they want to be when they grow up.
- Rory Holland