Sparks of Joy for Learning


CWP Program Director Megan Morrison finds vibrant learners in slums of Jakarta. In November of 2013 she voyaged across the globe to teach theatre and dance to children in Indonesia: 

Living conditions are brutal. Poverty is extreme. In the slums of Jakarta known as Kerat, most homes are built of scrap metal and cardboard. Ten to twenty family members share a single home. Homes are precariously crafted into two-story models on the brink of collapse should the ground shift ever so slightly, which it does. Life is precarious. The air smells of rotten, burning trash. Begging and prostitution are the most prevalent and lucrative trades for most of these families. By families, I mean children. Children are frequently trafficked into the sex industry. Most go hungry. Treatable diseases take lives daily.

Teaching conditions here are treacherous. We taught classes in a dirty, noisy, smelly, and hot courtyard.  Student ages ranged from 5 to 15 years old.  The number of children present fluctuated throughout the session. We did not speak the language.

The teaching experience, however, was incredible. The children of Kerat, in spite of the conditions, are the most loving and joyful I have ever known.

The students were engaged, focused, and energetic. They watched and listened intently. They dove into each activity with determination and imagination. I found myself gazing around in wonder and gratitude at nearly 100 children working together, laughing together, and learning together. These kids are thirsty! It is a priviledge to teach to this population.

As an educator, here are my big questions:

When poverty and ‘tough’ urban settings create a wall of apathy that educators have to battle daily in the US, why are children in far more dire circumstances so exuberant about learning? 

What are the societal and cultural conditions that feed into the apathy that is found too frequently amongst our youth? 

How do we cultivate the inherent spark of joy for learning within our toughest populations?