I am not such a fan of things like war and hurting people. I don’t think that mandatory military service is a good idea. That’s why I’m in the Peace Corps. On the other hand, for a select population, I think the military is an excellent choice. That population includes people who need a steady income, could use some personal discipline, don’t find violence or the use of necessary force to be utterly abhorrent, and need a stepping stone into a career.
In Vanuatu, there are very few people who couldn’t use a strong dose of all those things. There are very few paid jobs and fewer yet that actually get paid on time; the island lifestyle is conducive to a free form sense of time and motivation, you do what you want when you want to and there is no urgency to any of it; there is no strong stigma against things like slaughtering animals, which allows for less stigma around the use of necessary force; and many of the career jobs are based on a system of nepotism. It makes something like the Vanuatu Mobile Force (VMF) look pretty appealing.
Which brings me to the rant of the moment. When I ask a child in the US what they want to be when they grow up, I’d get things like: princess, cowboy, doctor, vet, movie star, singer, president, knight, teacher, nurse, pilot, postman, and the list goes on and on. Here, I asked a fifteen-year-old what she wanted to do when she finished school. She looked at me blankly. I asked her what she would want to focus on if she went to year 12. They have to specialize in year 14, but they are divided into arts and science in year 11 or 12. She continued to look at me blankly and finally said, “Go to school.” I asked her what she wanted to go to school for. She thought about it for about 2 minutes and finally said, “Teacher?” like this was a question with a right and wrong answer and I was quizzing her. I asked her what she wanted to teach- kindi, primary or secondary. She thought about that for awhile and said secondary.
I got the impression that was the first time she’d ever considered that there are career choices. I don’t think she realized she had options.
So much of American, and Western, society is about choice and individuality. We tell our children stories in which the hero is a knight or a princess or the president (though never a congressman…) or a doctor and by doing so, we teach them that they can grow up and do these things. It is something we take for granted that this is the way the world works.
Here, the children grow up on stories where there are 4 characters: chief, village man, village woman and magic person. That’s it. The media expands things to: soldier and popstar, but they are always white. The community role models expand the options to nurse and teacher. So, when I ask a child here, what do you want to be when you grow up? They say nurse or teacher.
What about the children who would be amazing film makers? Or computer techs? Or chefs? What about those kids that don’t excel at school but are stellar football players? Or the ones who hate reading but love to ask questions of the universe? They don’t have a place here. I look at the mid-class students, the ones who don’t excel but they aren’t failing either, and I think about this. If those students were exposed to a wider variety of career choices, of lifestyle choices, would they excel?
I think the limit on the number of careers and career options here leaves those students without a goal. They don’t know what is possible so they accept their fate and become mediocre farmers, just like they’ve been mediocre students. I hope the army coming will open the door for a few of them to see some other career options and pursue a passion instead of an obligation.