“When I Started to Look Deeper” is a series of personal stories by Saskatchewan people. Each author shares a moment that inspired them to look beyond the symptoms of global issues - such as hunger, health, education, and conflict - in order to find the root causes and work for more sustainable solutions. This series is a companion to SCIC’s LookDeeper online resource and campaign.
Bigger than Books
by Lexie Obey
If you’ve ever had a conversation with a young child, you’ve probably noticed that they ask a lot of questions. I was one of these annoyingly curious children. Growing up, I realized the world was an enormous place and there was an endless list of things I didn’t understand. Why is the sky blue? Who invented cars? Where does the moon go to sleep?
I often posed these questions to my parents, but try as they might, they just didn’t have all the answers. As teenage parents, neither had successfully completed high school at this point; quite frankly, they were often overwhelmed by their inability to assist me in my non-stop quest for knowledge.
As time progressed, my parents separated. I remained living with my mother, who made a life changing decision to obtain the rest of her high school education. She made the giant leap to university when I was in grade five, and the dynamics of my family life shifted greatly. Over the next four years, my mom consistently maintained a full course load, worked two part-times jobs and raised two children. This woman, who at one time was unable to answer some of my primary level homework questions, was now a dedicated scholar who maintained the grade average to secure her place on the dean’s list every semester. Inspiring is just one of the words I would use to describe her.
"During my first year of university, I had a conversation with a high school friend regarding some of our peers who didn’t graduate."
During these years I spent nearly every weekend at my father’s house visiting with my siblings and often helping my dad with his painting job. My father’s house was a very laid back and relaxed atmosphere; we watched a lot of TV, played outside, swam at the outdoor pool and frequented the arcade down the block. I had the freedom to run, play and enjoy the simpler things in life with my younger siblings. When I was in grade ten, my father and siblings moved to Calgary, and as time passed we just happened to drift apart.
I proceeded to live my life as what I understood to be a “normal” kid. I attended school daily, joined some sports teams, graduated high school and then applied for post-secondary education. All of these milestones I managed to reach didn’t seem like any sort of special achievement in my eyes; they were simply things that everyone does. But soon that would change.
During my first year of university, I had a conversation with a high school friend regarding some of our peers who didn’t graduate. Reflecting on my own childhood, I realized that my household, my access to good food, and an extremely encouraging mother were just a few things that made loving school easy for me. As a result, I was the third person on my mother’s side of the family to attend university, and the first on my father’s.
"Before this conversation, I also never questioned why dropping out of high school was so normalized among most of my relatives."
Before this conversation, I also never questioned why dropping out of high school was so normalized among most of my relatives. The thoughts it sparked about my family and their perspective on education stuck with me. I continued to wonder why my family fell short in academic standings compared to most families in the western world, and gained a new perspective on the experiences that I had which many others – including most of my siblings – did not.
My father and many of his siblings attended residential school for some portions of their lives. Inter-generational trauma is complex, but one thing that seemed to be passed down from my father from that experience was, understandably, a mistrust of people as well as the educational system. My siblings were also indirectly impacted by the child welfare system during their childhood, an experience which I did not endure.
Looking deeper, I was confronted with the reality that we’re not all provided with equal access and opportunities in life. I realized that just like some of my classmates, my family's low educational achievement had nothing to do with their capabilities. Rather, it was factors out of their control – including the legacy of trauma left from colonization, residential schools, and the welfare system – that may have created the biggest roadblocks to their own educational journeys.
All of a sudden, the many discussions and justice lectures I had attended began to connect to a bigger picture. The things I had learned in school were no longer just ideas or scenarios in a textbook; they were applicable to my own life, to my family’s life. These were real life problems that I could empathize with.
"What started as a conversation among friends, drove me to look deeper."
What started as a conversation among friends, drove me to look deeper; motivated me to type “How many children today don't go to school?” into a search engine. The answer? 57 million globally do not attend school every day. 57 million children out of school means that there are 57 million children not maximizing their potential, not pursuing their dreams, and not being given the opportunity to change the world. Why 57 million? Why is this number so high? By looking deeper, I’ve realized is that there is no one or two or even nine reasons for the causes this injustice; there are many.
Achieving Better Education for Everyone
When I first began looking for the root causes of lack of education, hunger, poor health, and conflict around the world, the issues seemed so over my head that it felt overwhelming. But I realized that even though the issues are much bigger than you and I, that doesn’t mean we are incapable of making a difference. That’s because looking deeper also is an opportunity to look forward - forward to change.
Slowly, I began to think more conscientiously, and decided to change some of the ways in which I conduct my daily habits. For example, I had no clue that things I buy could affect other families and whole communities. When I can, I now choose fair trade coffee and products in order to ensure that the communities producing them are getting paid a fair wage. It may seem like a small thing, but a fair wage for farmers could be the difference between sending their children to school or not.
"Looking Deeper not only means appreciating what you have and being aware of what others don't; it also means asking yourself why this is, and deciding to do something about it."
Walking into university I thought I had my whole life figured out: get a degree in Human Justice, go to law school, practice at a firm, and make a decent wage while doing it. A lot has changed since then. The subjects and topics in Human Justice connected dots and opened up ways to see the world that I never quite imagined before. My goal of going to law school still exists, but my reasons have changed. A focus in Human Rights law has become appealing, and the power that a law degree holds can be the tool I utilize to make a difference in the world.
Education is one of the most powerful things a person can obtain, and changing the way in which children, locally and globally, have access to it is something I hope to achieve. Looking Deeper not only means appreciating what you have and being aware of what others don't, but it also means asking yourself why this is, and deciding to do something about it.
Lexie Obey is a third year Human Justice student at the University of Regina and an avid podcast listener, documentary watcher, and knowledge seeker. After the completion of her degree, she hopes to attend a Canadian law school and practice in the field of human rights or Aboriginal law.
Guest blogs are personal stories from people in our community. The views and opinions expressed in guest blogs are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of SCIC or its members.