I watched an exceptional TV programme recently about child poverty in the USA called America's Poor Kids. Almost unbelievably, more than a million children are homeless in this land of unparalleled riches.
But financial poverty is just one aspect; there is also an entrenched poverty of vision, dreams and aspiration. This poverty of hope and belief for something bigger than us and the willingness to pursue it with determination and courage may be unseen, but it is at least as iniquitous in its effect as any material lack.
I felt compelled to write a book about a small snail called Ernie who, despite living in a challenging situation, has a dream of a better life and goes in pursuit of it with a determined, childlike faith and naivety that we all need sometimes in order to believe in and achieve something that seems impossible at the start.
Ernie Gonzales: The Determined Dreamer is not a shallow, fluffy story of an easy, golden paved road to the fulfilment of Ernie's dreams. Rather, it is a story that highlights many of the hurdles any of us will face when we are brave enough to step out and fight for what we truly want. Ernie goes through periods of self-doubt, has to consider the opinions of others, perseveres in the face of ridicule, and battles the recurring temptation to settle for the mediocre. Ernie, helped by his friends, is on a life changing journey both within and without.
While financial poverty is the biggest visible factor limiting a child's future choices, many children suffer from a chronic, debilitating lack of aspiration irrespective of their material situation. It seems that many children, rich and poor, have lost the ability to dream.
Poverty of aspiration steals their joy, their child-like belief, vision and hope. It may foster apathy as fulfilling dreams requires hard work and determination that are rooted in hope and expectation. My story about Ernie Gonzales is permeated by an optimistic attitude of sheer positivity in the face of adversity as it is one of the most powerful stances that a human being can adopt.
It is paramount that we teach children to think beyond their immediate horizons and have a 'warrior-like' attitude, inspiring and empowering them not to waiver in their faith. In varied and creative ways we must communicate that they can dream and that their dreams can come true. From a young age we can instill in them the faith and positive approach so that they need to pursue their own dreams and develop the friendships that will enable them to inspire others to fulfil theirs.
We need to think carefully about the messages we 'feed' our children, considering what will communicate hope and inspire them for the good. The characters in a story can be a wonderful medium for doing this; positive role models who convey life-changing ideas. Ernie and his friends show children how they can go out into the world and add to it in a way that is wonderfully unique and true to who they are. We need stories that spark their imagination and Ernie Gonzales: The Determined Dreamer is such a book. Food for thought! What an amazing 'we can' generation we could create.