It is not only the global elite that are developing the skills necessary in our global economy. On a recent trip to the slums of Mumbai, I encountered extreme poverty and at the same time encountered people that spoke three languages, have lived in very different cultural contexts in India and have learned through necessity the skills of being an entrepreneur.
And yet, while poverty and illiteracy are pervasive, I met children being encouraged to learn the skills that will give them opportunities for relative advancement. For people living in one room it is not always obvious how to provide a context where a child can study and can get enough sleep. Without sufficient work, money, food or health care, it is challenging to maintain a focus on studying and getting ahead. The distractions of drugs and alcohol are environmental hazards, as they are in poor communities all over the world. Old rules about caste and class can still be barriers to advancement.
Learning English and eventually finished college can be the keys to getting ahead. If their families can provide enough support, a challenging and different road can open up for them. While few people from the slums have the opportunity to dream about or even become Global Cosmopolitans, there are people that live out dreams of living in a different world in India.
I encountered children that were highly motivated to succeed in India’s competitive educational system in spite of their economic situation. They were also learning how to live in different worlds than their parents, in different languages and with different dreams.
Changing the notions of what women can and should do is challenging. As I left one young woman’s home, she invited me to her college graduation and her mother quickly chimed in the invitation to celebrate her wedding. This quick comment emphasized the complexity women encounter as they try to show respect and love for their families and at the same time want to live out different life dreams.
It was encouraging meeting both young men and women learning the skills that will help them in their future endeavors. They are learning how to be different, they are learning how to bridge different worlds, and they are learning how to on their own. Their experience of complexity and change growing up can teach about the sources of their own resilience and the ability to learn and grow from new challenges and opportunities.