A colourful lesson

Children are often the unfiltered and adolescent version of us and can bring to the plenty to the table in the diversity debate

I was moved some days ago at a simple presentation by a number of pupils from St Thomas More College in Zejtun. The topic was diversity but unlike the usual informative presentations about diversity, these young adults took the stage and talked about their struggles.

It is very hard for an adult, and a parent, to hear young adults, aged from 12 to 15, talk about the invisible barriers and difficulties they face on a daily basis just because they have a different religion, sexual orientation or colour.

From their eyes you could see this was not just a presentation on a topic they are discussing at school - 'Diversity' - but it's a daily reality of life. They talked about coming from countries very far away, cultures very different to us and how the Maltese society was part-welcoming, part-hesitant to them, their parents and the way of life they brought with them.

The honesty oozed out of these children and what I noticed, as they were going through all the struggles they faced constantly, was the lack of anger. Despite being called all sort of names and treated as second classes by some parts of society, the children weren't fighting back with antagonism and resentment. It's as if they somehow understood, in their very young age, an important life lesson and they by not retorting they climbed above such bitterness.

Instead, what these children did was turn around to their classmates and shared their experience and their life story - and what they got in return was unyielding support and love which helped them through difficult periods in their lives. It's as if this classroom served to cocoon them from the far uglier realities lying in wait for them outside.

The school got a lot in return - there's a vibrant population in which children share their Maltese culture with others from around the world. Children get to understand different languages and cultures not by books, but by their classmates. When I was a child, I remember going through the geography book and talking about the different countries, cultures and traditions as if they belong to another galaxy, but now children can learn all this first-hand in the schools.

They can ask questions and relate to the differences. During this diversity event, there was a vibrant mix of ideas and cultures. Some were tasting Indian food for the first time, others were asking why 'mint', a popular Arabic ingredient, was being thrown in the pan. It was a joy to watch because children went home with a wider view on the world, one that doesn't end at the tip in Delimara.

In some schools there's more than 30 different nationalities - so they are easily the most multi-cultural communities in Malta and Gozo.

This all brings us to an important lesson for us adults. Children are often the unfiltered and adolescent version of us and can bring to the plenty to the table in the diversity debate. Their unconditional friendship that children from different nationalities have is nothing short of a shining example of how respect and understanding can take us a long way.

The pupils at St Thomas More that day showed me that the country has a great future because such initiatives and encouraging stories in the diverse mix of our schools are not just limited in one school or in one area of the country, but everywhere you go.

They went beyond tolerating each other, they learnt to understand each other and create bonds and friendships. The children didn't receive a lesson on that day. They gave one.

 Evarist Bartolo is Minister for Education