Western children are soft...mostly. Of course there are too many who go without basics of decent housing and a hot meal on the table every evening...but the majority of children are pampered and spoiled and soft.
One of our neighbours drives her daughter to the end of our street to catch the school 'bus...it's probably five hundred yards. And she'll be there at the end of the day to collect her in the car...the child has every outside 'toy'...a Wendy House and swings and a slide and a bicycle...I have yet, in all the time she has been of an age to play outside on her own, to see her availing of any of those toys. But you can see the television flickering through the sitting room window.
My little brother used to walk over the fields to school in the hard winter of 1963...he was only about six...he'd go stomping off in his wellie boots with his satchel on his back...and come stomping home again in the evening when it was pitch dark outside and he'd be frozen with the cold.
One single snowflake falls somewhere in Connaught and all the schools close...everyone flies into a panic...heating breaks down and school 'buses won't run and the children sit in front of the television all the days instead...
You can't tell Western children that other children crave knowledge and will brave gun -toting soldiers and the likelihood of suicide bombers around the next corner in order to go to school...it would be like the days when our parents told us to eat everything on our plate 'because African children were starving'...we couldn't visualise that scenario...to us being 'starving' was wanting our supper...not to be crouched in the dirt with empty eyes staring into space and all our ribs sticking out.
Maybe I'm being unrealistic to imagine any child looking at this photograph to have empathy with that small girl...perhaps it's a posed and Photo shopped image...maybe the heavily armed soldiers standing behind her were cajoled into being in the shot...I don't much care if it was posed because there are children just like that little girl who are determined to have a schooling...determined come what may to achieve and to rise above their ethnic expectations...
And it could be argued that children need their childhoods to be rosy and sweet...perhaps they ought not be faced with children from faraway places determinedly going to school through bombed houses and shops with heavily armed soldiers at every turn...perhaps we ought not to tell them how lucky they are to have new school textbooks and access to the Internet and plenty of pencils and crayons and to go home to a safe warm house each evening.
Whatever we might feel is right or wrong...the image of that little girl going off to school come what may is one which I'll always remember.