Many African countries have proverbs about the shared responsibility of raising children:
In Tanzania: “One knee does not bring up a child.”
The Swahili of East & Central Africa: “One hand does not nurse a child.”
Uganda: “A child does not grow up only in a single home.”
While chatting with Uncle M on the street, my little 5-year-old boy saw a cat and rushed towards his house without the consent of the adult. The childless neighbour Uncle M stopped him with a few firm words. I expressed my gratitude to him, thanking him for giving a great social lesson. This incident had happened in another neighbour’s house last week, and it seemed that my son had not yet learnt this lesson.
With a surprised but amused face, Uncle M began to share with me about something he and his wife learnt on their last travels. When they visited Egypt, they found that the streets were filled with a strong neighbourhood spirit. They were unsure of the reason, but a child was being scolded by another neighbour who was not related by blood. The neighbour pointed to the naughty boy, then pointed to the police station next to him. The tour guide told Uncle M and his Wife that this incident was normal here, that there is great trust amongst the neighbours and the children learn their social lessons through the guidance of the whole community.
Neighbourhood parents teaching, learning, and playing with children
Relating it back to the locals in Australia, it seems that sometimes, there is a culture where the parents are unable to accept the accusations of their children from others. If their child is wrong, they may instead say that they will teach their own children, or “you should mind your own business.”
However, we are reminded that each place has its own unique culture of community. The neighbours next door are from Croatia, and their traditional neighbourhood also has unrelated aunts playing an important role in the children’s social education. My colleague from East Africa also told me that in their collective neighbourhood, it is impolite to not know your neighbours. Local friends in Australia have shared similar concepts from the Indigenous Aboriginal people. Because the child and mother have a natural blood relationship, they are often unable to teach and share knowledge as they are too close. Therefore, the education of the child is usually the job of the aunts who have no blood connections.
Neighbourhood parents looking out for other children
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