Who stole my dreams

About 24% of the world’s population are children. This means that we have a little less than 2 billion of them on this planet. Not all grow up and live under the same circumstances though. 

The UN says that 820 million people are in severe danger of malnourishment. Children are the first to suffer. Roughly 3,1 million of them die each year due to the consequences of calory-deficiency. 

In 2014, about 60 million primary aged children were out of school. Half of them in Africa. Even in developed countries, many children don’t eat enough. This is not because of some fashion fad. Many of them grow up in decrepit circumstances.

What I am describing here is the bottom of the barrel. It’s easy to think that all other children are fine or grow up in similar conditions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Differences among those in the central-bulge can be very pronounced.

Like almost anything, the living conditions of children worldwide cover a spectrum. Let’s number it from 0 to 100. Zero is the most abject condition that the human mind is able to imagine. 100 being the extreme life of a billionaire child that is able to realize its every whim.

The vast majority of children will accumulate in a huge bulge roughly at the center of the graph. Life gives them similar access to food, health care, parental love, and education. They also have somewhat good life potential.

Numbers on both of the ends are much smaller with the thinning out at the top end being extreme. Very rich kids are rare. And those on the dirt-poor side are not too frequent either.

Let’s look at the numbers again. 3,1 million children die of hunger per year. Few, compared to 2 billion. Yet, this does not mean that the other 99,7% are all fine. Many of them are only one step away from hell or a tiny bit better than that.

On the richer side, being close to the top 1 percentile still does not mean a life in splendid debauchery. 

I grew up in the Austrian countryside. I was safe, trusted that caring parents would see to all my fundamental needs. I went to school and later even made it to college and never had the inkling of what real hunger feels like.

I belonged to the 10% of the luckiest children on Earth.

Was it all a pony ride? Not quite.

In spite of having middle-class parents, I was still very far from what one would call the upper crust of society. Even in my own region. There were rich kids. And there were those that were not rich, but their parents were still better off than we were.

Many people today live under the mistaken notion that there are the poor – and there are the rich. In reality, there are many different layers of people between those two extremes. Because even among the so-called rich, there are stark differences. So there are among the very poor.

This general principle is no different today than it was 40 years ago.

There are lots of children that go hungry every day. There are many that don’t go to school. Or that need to work every day under grueling conditions to provide for their families. There are child slaves working in mines. They dig up rare metals green energy depends upon.

The life of a child in the Coltan Mines in Congo is different from the upbringing of a Swedish schoolgirl. What dream does such a mine slave have? What dreams is it allowed to have?

What dreams can girls in Sudan have that walks miles every day to bring water for their family? What dreams can a child soldier in the Central African bush have? What are the dreams of brothel girls in Asia where child prostitution is rampant? What dreams do the street children in Cairo or the children in the sewers of  Ulaanbaatar have?

And then we get to see a 16-year-old girl on a stage. Framed by all the rich, famous and powerful. Living among the absolute top slice of people on Earth. Enjoying luxury as even a middle-class kid can hardly fathom. And she talks about her stolen dreams? 

And we listen.

We listen as if our life depended on it. But how much can she know of life? What dreams could she have abandoned? She is living the dream that 99,9% of all children will never come close to right now. 

In my early 20ies, I once stumbled into a tattoo shop in Los Angeles. I struck up a conversation with a 16-year-old girl there. After a while, she told me that she wanted a tongue piercing. I asked her why on Earth someone wants to have a hole punched into the tongue. She said that this was the only thing left that could give her the thrills. She had already seen everything else.

I was speechless. She had not seen the world beyond 200 miles of Los Angeles. How could such a young girl have gone so deranged?

Now we have this other 16-year-old girl that has the lifestyle of a filmstar for the last few years. She rubs shoulders with celebrities and royalty. She goes to prestigious events and receives plenty of expensive gifts. She will live the billionaire life. She is part of the top 0,1%.

She has it all – except her dreams. That’s what she says. We stole her dreams. Because we destroyed the world she wanted to live in.

But what world did she imagine to live in? What world could she have expected to live in?

My generation grew up under the threat of global thermonuclear war. We grew up with acid rain, with Tchernobyl, with asbestos, with poison in children’s toys paint.   

And I was part of the lucky 10%. Not like the garbage children of Cairo or those that salvage parts of the electronics dump in Ghana. 

Let me ask you a question.

Did you think that humans may expect to live in harmony with Earth and nature? I have news for you. Earth is a harsh and unforgiving planet. It has killed off huge swathes of all life many times over without remorse. We call that an extinction event today. 

Earth and nature don’t care about us or life. If all life disappeared because a cosmic event sterilizes Earth, the planet won’t care a bit. Life is a constant struggle against the elements. Living conditions were a lot better during the late Jurassic than they have been ever since. The last couple of million years were actually on the harsh side for life and for nature.

Earth is not an immaculate pearl created in harmony and balance. Earth is the way it is and the impact humans have on it is part of its evolution. There are things we cannot do a lot about like plate tectonics or the activity of our central star. Let’s stop pretending we can. 

But there are things we can change if we want to. They are here on Earth and they involve the dreams of children. Children that have no other dreams than a full stomach. Plus the hope to survive the daily ordeal they undergo. They may dream of parents kissing them or going to school to have a better life. A life that involves living in safety. Eating to a fill every day and seeing their children grow up and become adults. Their dream is to survive without the daily struggle. 

They need economic development and economic development requires stable, reliable and affordable energy. The kind of energy that expensive wind and solar cannot provide. The kind of energy that fossils fuels do provide. Life energy. 

And I don’t care one bit if some rich kid throws a tantrum. She is angry that her mental pony rides are not as colorful as she once thought they were. All that while millions of children die and suffer more as a consequence of the folly she forces upon us.

If you have a story or a picture of a child that grows up in real misery, publish it under the hashtag #whostoletheirdreams.

Image by billy cedeno from Pixabay

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