“Oran a azu nwa”

Oran a azu nwa, translated to English – it takes a village to raise a child – is an African proverb, specifically from Nigeria’s Igbo people. The saying is familiar to many of us, but I am not sure we give it much thought. The Igbo people believe an entire village must interact with its children, to provide a safe and healthy environment to ensure the children grow into respectful and strong adults. Perhaps that proverb has greater significance now more than ever with so many families spread out across the globe, with children having less access to cousins and aunts and grandparents on a daily basis.
Many miles separate me from three of my four grandchildren and as a result, I can’t be part of their daily worlds, to share what wisdom, if any, I have worthy of sharing. I find other ways to let them know they are loved unconditionally, but it isn’t the same as being together, to pull them on to my knee when their world is difficult, to throw my arms over my head to share their joy. I find tremendous comfort in knowing my grandchildren have role models, have people who form their village.
I am thinking specifically now about four members of my grandson Linden’s village – Andrew and Ray, and Abby and Ben, my daughter’s close friends with whom my grandson spends true quality time. I am regularly in awe of their kindness, a kindness that runs to the very core of who they are, is not a costume they pull on from time to time, but rather a spirit that is firmly embedded in their character. They speak to Linden with focused intent, they greet him not as an extension of my daughter, their friend, but as a person in Linden’s own right, a separate soul. They treat him with respect and as such, have expectations of him that he honours. Each have their way of interacting with Linden, of telling him who they are and how they view the world.
Linden looks to these four to learn how to be a caring citizen of his village. They teach him by example – action has far more impact than words. Linden will form his foundation of what it means to be a man, to develop his strength of character as he watches Andrew and Ray and Ben solve problems, watches them interact with friends, with strangers, in difficult situations, in joyful moments, who laugh with him, who comfort Linden when he is frustrated or sad. Linden will grow into a man with a firm understanding that men can nurture, men can be soft and gentle, men can cry, men can be determined advocates, men can be artists/creators and teachers and stay-at-home dads; men can do anything.
I am thinking of one game night, not long ago. Linden is six years old and sometimes he gets wound up when he’s with his village, bringing on a headache. Linden’s “village” were quietly talking to Linden about choosing a game that might help him be calm and not to develop a headache. Linden had an idea. He does yoga for kids with instruction from an App on his mother’s iPad. Before anyone had a turn for that particular game, Linden asked them to bring their hands together, drop their head, close their eyes and whisper Namaste. And they did, practising intentional calmness while they played the game, without snickering and without thinking it odd that a six-year-old’s brain worked in this way. What better message can there be for a child than to be heard, to be seen, to have a voice, to think for himself. I am so very grateful for this, these people and I am inspired by them. The world is a better version of itself with them in it and Linden is a lucky boy to be part of their village.