Vol. 20, no. 2
March -- April, 2008
Our Nature Connection
© 2008 by Skipping Stones, Inc. Opinions expressed in these pages reflect views of the contributors, and not necessarily those of Skipping Stones, Inc.
In America today, less than ten percent of the population speaks two or more languages. In recent years, as English has become the business language of the world, fewer and fewer Americans are pressed to learn diverse and multiple languages at an early age, when the human mind is most open to new forms of communication. I was lucky to grow up in a bilingual house, with a Turkish-speaking father, and an English-speaking mother. English came naturally to me, as my peers spoke that language, and since my father spoke to me in constant Turkish, over the years I grew to understand and speak that language too. My mother, who also home-schooled me, taught me Latin starting in first-grade to the present, and started me on French in eighth grade.
Today, not many American children are exploring the exotic languages spoken in some obscure parts of the world, but now there is a new competition about languages, called the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad, which could change that. This competition, held in February 2008, is open to middle and high school students around the country (http://www.naclo.cs.cmu.edu/). It does not require the student to be able to speak different languages, but just to be able to understand and analyze how languages work. Languages from the competition include Hmong, Ancient Greek, and other lesser-known forms of human communication. The top scoring students around the country who take this test will be sent to Moscow, Russia, all expenses paid, to be part of the American team competing at the International Linguistics Olympiad.
On my trips around the world to Europe and the Middle East, I have come to realize the importance of learning multiple forms of communication to coexist with other children and citizens of other nationalities. It is how we learn to understand each other and appreciate the multi-cultural diversity of our world.
-- Haluk Akay, 13
Turkish American, homeschooler, Penn
A Parent at 12 Years!
It all started when about 45 of us were each given seeds. Seeds of all colours, shapes and sizes. Seeds that somebody had to nurture, grow, love and bring up like a child. Who do you think took up that responsibility? Us! Forty-five children of all ages who had volunteered to participate in a unique 'Sow and Grow' program organized by Rays of Hope, a Thane (India) based environmental organization for children.
I was given six seeds of Purple Bauhinia (Bauhinia purpurea) to take care of. Some of the others had seeds of laburnum, Karanj, mango, almond and other indigenous trees of India. I sowed mine in a coconut shell, which I filled with cowdung and soil. For a few days, nothing happened. The shell just lay in my balcony.
When I went to check on my seeds I shouted with delight! For there, in the shell, were six little shoots coming up, out of the cowdung. I was ecstatic!
The sight of those new leaves curiously poking their heads out to see the world, filled my heart with joy. I finally had my little plants actually growing. Soon they would become trees! Large, majestic, shady and bursting with beautiful purple flowers—I could already see them in my mind's eye. I was overjoyed at the thought of having a tree that I could call my own and that I would never, never allow anybody to cut down!!
The bauhinia tree is also called "camel's foot" because of the shape of its leaves. These leaves look like two separate rounded leaves joined together. One of my botanist friends explained to me that this tree had been named after the Bauhin twins, John and Gaspard, who were French botanists.
Little by little they grew bigger and bigger. I figured they liked music, so I'd to take my guitar to the balcony and sing to them every day. Their stems became stronger and more leaves appeared. The minute I saw that they had grown even the slightest bit, I would run around the house yelling "It's grown! It's grown!" and I wouldn't stop until everyone in the house had given a comment on it. Just like a newborn's proud mother!
After several months, I took my saplings (which had grown quite big) to the Rays of Hope center in Thane. There, all of us had to take the plants out from the shells and re-pot them (or rather re-bag them) into old, reused plastic bags. In the process of putting in fresh cow dung-soil, I found four little worms. I put them in my plants, which I had named Rahul, Preeti, Ramesh and Sandy.
I looked after them for many more months. They began putting out branches and new leaves and really grew fast. However, when I came back from my summer vacation, to my sadness, I discovered that two of the saplings had dried up even though they had been watered every day in my absence. I realized that the ones that I put my worms into had not died. I concluded this as a probable effect of vermiculture.
My surviving plants were growing well. But then the day came when I realized that they could not keep living in a plastic bag in a small balcony. If they had to grow into the trees that they were destined to be, I would have to part with them.
It was the 5th of June, World Environment Day! I decided to attend the tree planting ceremony of the Bombay Natural History Society at Navi Mumbai. A large playground on Palm Beach Road had been offered as a site to plant trees all along its borders. I took along with me three of my saplings—Rahul, Preeti and Ramesh. (I wanted to plant Sandy in my own compound) Here my beloved saplings would be among others of their own age and would be lovingly looked after until they grew big and strong. There were all kinds and sizes of saplings—flowering, medicinal and others. I went around as the "watering-boy" for every sapling being planted. Then the time came to plant my saplings.
I first dug out earth to create space for my plants to firmly take root. I took them out of the plastic cover, placed them in the soil, covered up their roots with my own hands and watered them thoroughly.
The time had now come to say goodbye to my saplings. As I went away, I felt a bit sad. "But never mind," I said to myself. "They'll be happy here, and anyways, I've still got Sandy!"
There's nothing like nurturing and looking after something and seeing it grow in front of your own eyes. I'm waiting for the time when they will grow into trees. I understand that if young saplings are looked after for the first three years of their life, they grow up as strong trees, which need no more looking after.
My balcony looks a little empty now, but it won't be long before I get some more seeds to create some more friends for the world of the future.
If you who want a large family with many brothers or sisters…go ahead and plant a few seeds and grow a few saplings, and you'll know what I'm talking about.
-- Sooraj Bishnoi, 12,
loves music and writing, India
Ask Nana Jean about Skin Color
Why are people different colors?
How do children learn about different color of skin?
Until I was about eight years old, I didn't know about races. I thought everyone was the same. Mom was a lot lighter than we were and my sister was a little darker and younger than I was, so I figured that people's skin stretched as they got older!
One of my grandchildren describes her family members like this: "brownish, whitish, tan, honey."
Why do children learn to be afraid of people who have different skin tones?
Have you ever had someone treat you badly because of the color of your skin?
Is it like this in other countries as well?
Sometimes people think I am from another country because my skin is not White. What could I say?
My teacher sometimes mixes me up with my friend who is also Asian. What should I say?
Why are your grandchildren all different colors?
Making a Difference
In Germany, we have this expression, "Karriere machen." It means "to make a career," or to emerge as one of the shining stars of business, with a paycheck big enough to impress all your old high-school friends.
This little phrase embodies a dream. Young men and women around this globe carry the hope of being successful, waiting for the opportunity to let this bud of their life blossom. While I cannot exclude myself from this wide-spread yearning to belong to the "rich and famous," there is one goal that defines my hopes for the future more than money or success. And I believe many others share this goal with me.
The goal is to "Make a difference." As an aspiring journalist, I want to be out there, reporting on miracles and tragedies, war and peace, life and death. And through my work, I want to raise awareness and move people; in short, I want to make a difference.
Unlike "making a career," making a difference is not about making money. It's about changing our own lives. It's about being role models. It's about improving the world. It's about saying "good morning" at work. It's about giving strangers a friendly smile just as much as helping to end a war, breaking down social barriers and bringing the truth to light. An ordinary person has just as much potential when it comes to making a difference as a scientist, a politician, a celebrity or a billionaire.
It's all about attitude and what we are willing to risk to help change the world. Whether we want to live out loud or live a quiet life, we always have the opportunity to take actions that will make a difference. The secret lies in starting with the little things that are within everyone's reach.
And if by chance we end up being rich, well then that's just a little bonus for making a difference.
In Deutschland haben wir einen Ausdruck–„Karriere machen." Das heisst, „eine Karriere und Erfolg haben," eine Chance aufs Große Geld zu kommen und die Geld-Dartscheibe mitten ins Schwarze zu treffen, den Aufstieg zu wagen und sich als einer der leuchtenden Sterne am Business-Himmel herauszustellen, mit einer Lohntüte groß genug um alle alten Schulfreunde zu beeindrucken.
Diese kleine Redefigur verkörpert einen Traum. Junge Männer und Frauen auf der ganzen Welt hoffen auf Erfolg und warten nur auf die Gelegenheit um diese Chance ihres Lebens zu ergreifen. Während ich mich nicht von diesem weit verbreiteten Verlangen danach, zu den „Reichen und Schönen" dazuzugehören ausschließen kann, gibt es jedoch ein Ziel, das meine Hoffnungen für die Zukunft mehr definiert als Geld oder Erfolg. Und ich glaube, dass viele andere dieses Ziel mit mir teilen.
Dieses Ziel ist „etwas bewirken." Als jemand, die einmal Journalistin werden möchte, hoffe ich einmal in der Welt zu Hause zu sein, über Wunder und Schicksalsschläge, Krieg und Frieden, Leben und Tot zu berichten. Und durch meine Arbeit möchte ich Bewusstsein schärfen und Menschen bewegen; kurzum, ich möchte etwas bewirken.
Im Gegensatz zu „Karriere machen," hat der Vorsatz etwas zu bewirken nichts mit Geld zu tun. Es geht darum, unser eigenes Leben zu verändern. Es geht darum, ein Vorbild zu sein. Es geht darum, die Welt zu verbessern. Es geht darum, bei der Arbeit „Guten Morgen" zu sagen. Es geht genauso viel darum, Fremden ein ehrliches Lächeln zu schenken wie es darum geht, dabei zu helfen, einen Krieg zu beenden, soziale Barrieren niederzureißen und die Wahrheit ans Licht zu bringen. Ein gewöhnlicher Mensch hat genauso sehr die Möglichkeit, etwas zu bewirken wie ein Wissenschaftler, ein Politiker, eine Berühmtheit oder ein Milliardär.
Es geht um unsere Einstellung und was wir bereit sind zu riskieren um da draußen zu sein und die Welt zu verändern. Ob wir nun im Rampenlicht leben wollen oder lieber zurückgezogen, wir haben immer die Gelegenheit Taten zu vollbringen, die etwas verändern. Das Geheimnis liegt darin, mit den kleinen Dingen zu beginnen, die in jedermanns Fähigkeit liegen.
Und wenn wir auf dem Weg nach oben zufällig reich werden, na ja, dann ist das nur der kleine Bonus dafür, etwas bewirkt zu haben.
-- Katie Grosser, 17,
Skipping Stones Magazine