Thursday, June 11, 2015

Fantastic Movies - On the way to School, A documentary by Pascal Plisson



My kids and I walk to school, almost every day unless it's raining or really hot. Our walk to school takes about ten minutes on a nice, paved sidewalk. So, when I came across this documentary on Netflix, I watched it and wow was all I could say.

At the end of the movie, I realized that these children might be living fuller lives (not easier) than my children. I realized that I need to allow my children to take on more than what my husband and I have given them so far.

I don't know what the intention of the movie was - to generate sympathy? Or to educate us? Well, it succeeded in doing both very well. But what I came away with is that I need to allow my children even more freedom and the responsibility that goes with it. 

~~~~~Spoiler Alert~~~~~

The movie opens with 11-year-old Jackson digging a hole in Kenya. Though I don't know how long he's been digging that hole, he finally gets what he wants, water. Water to wash his school clothes and water to take with him on his way to school.

Jackson and his younger sister must make a nine-mile journey that takes two hours to go to school. They make this trip twice a day, and must leave their house by 5:30 am in the morning to get to school by 7:30 am. 

The walk alone would be challenging enough, but they must make their journey through the elephant habitat, which can be very dangerous. There is a scene where Jackson and his younger sister are standing on a hillside, looking down at a herd of elephants. They talk about which route to take because of the elephants. Each day, their route to school will be slightly different because of the elephants. 

During their journey, the siblings each carry a book bag (?), a long, strong-looking stick, and a plastic jug of water. There is a scene where the sibling is hiding from the elephants, and the younger sister looks genuinely scared, and Jackson tells her to quiet her breathing because it might alert the elephants.

But they do arrive at the school safely, and Jackson leads the school in a flag-raising ceremony.


In Morocco, Zahira and her grandmother talk about the importance of school. Her grandmother never had a chance to attend school, and she reminds Zahira it's an opportunity she never had. 

Zahira and her two friends must trek through the Atlas Mountains, about 13 1/2 mile journey, twice a week to go to school. Fortunately, the girls stay in the dorms during the week and make the trek back home on Friday. This journey, to and from school, takes four hours, and the girls must rely on the kindness of random strangers for a ride on their vehicles for the a part of their journey to school.

What I found amazing is Zahira is carrying a live chicken (in a bag) along with a backpack full of books. When one of her friends hurt her foot (ill-fitting shoes, perhaps?), the three girls take a bit of rest. They try to hitch a ride on a donkey, but the man with the donkeys refuse to take them on his donkey. Though it sounds rather callous, his donkeys were laden with things, and I could understand why he might not want to tire his donkeys too much.

When they finally reach one of the bigger villages, they sit by the roadside to hitch a ride to school. They talk about how being later than usual means it's going to be harder to find a car that goes their way. Some time later, a truck full of goats come by, and the driver finally lets the girls hop on in the back, with the goats. On this final leg of their journey, the driver stops for prayers, and they continue. 

Zahira barters some fruits and vegetables for the chicken she carried, and the three girls are finally off to school.


In India, Samuel's two younger brothers push him through two miles of rough country roads, crossing streams and overcoming a flat tire, to get to school every day. The three brothers make this three twice a day, every day, and it takes them 75 minutes each way.

Samuel is a 13-year-old boy who looks pretty big and heavy compared to his two younger brothers who must push him to school. When stuck in a stream, the two younger brothers argue about picking the muddy route, etc., but the minute Samuel, the older brother, tells them to stop fighting and get going, they do.  When they get stopped on the road by a broken down truck, the men carry the wheelchair for the boys to get across. When they get a flat tire; a bicycle repair shop owner repairs it for them.

It's quite painful to watch their journey to school, with all the rutted roads, streams, etc., but never once did the two younger brothers seem to resent Samuel or the task they must perform. It was something they did every day. Not only that, when they reach Samuel's school, the youngest brother straightens Samuel's shirt collar and pats his face with so much affection and love that it's awe-inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time.

At the end, Samuel explains that he is extremely lucky for many reasons. There is a very smart girl whose rich family refuses to send her to school. He is aware of the fact that most kids like him, who can't walk, are kept at home and don't get to see the outside world much. He wants to grow up to be a doctor so that he can help others like him.


In Argentina, Carlito (11 years-old) and his younger sister ride a horse through the beautiful Patagonian landscape to get to school. This trip takes 1 1/2 hours, and they cover 11 miles. Though the landscape is beautiful, they must trek down a steep hillside and ride through rocky patches of land. 

I was worried that the horse might fall, and kids might get hurt, but Carlito manages very well with his younger sister happily chatting behind him.

A friend of mine runs a great non-profit organization (AsanteAfrica.org), and she invited a Masai warrior from Kenya to speak at her fundraising events in the USA. When he came, he stayed with her in the bay area, and he was startled by how little responsibility we, Americans, gave our children. He said he couldn't believe American mothers were fretting about their older children crossing the street when five or six-year-old Masai boys are expected to herd goats and keep them safe. 

When I was watching this movie, I was worried about Jackson and his younger sister getting to school safely. How could his parents bear not knowing if they arrived safely or not with the elephants roaming around? 

I was amazed by Zahira and her friends making the trek over the Atla Mountains but was horrified by the thought of something happening to them. Who knew what or who lurked in those narrow, steep mountain paths? And to hitchhike their way to school? Get into any random car that stopped to pick them up? Who knew what kind of person was driving the vehicle. What if...?

I was inspired by Samuel and his brothers, but I was doubly impressed by their parents. They were poor, yet they were so rich in many ways. They've instilled love and responsibility in those younger brothers but kept Samuel's dreams alive. Would my children be able to do that? Would they want to do that every day? Twice a day? Would I be able to keep my children's dreams alive under the most trying circumstances?

If I had to choose one life to live among the four, I would choose Carlito's life. He and his family seemed to live in the modern world, but in a rural setting that allowed them to live the life they wanted to live. Carlito said he wanted to live just like his parents, and I don't blame him. Next year, he'll be going off to a boarding school, and his younger sister (~seven or eight-years-old?) would have to ride the horse by herself to go to school. Would I be able to do that with my little girl? For 90 minute horseback ride to school over the steep terrain?

This documentary stayed with me far longer than I expected. It made me think about what I want my children to have in their "tool box" of abilities when they go out into the world.