We were honored when Indaba was invited to share our story at the 5th Annual Conference of the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) China Affiliated Society in Hangzhou, China on 19 October 2019. Run by the Zhejiang Montessori Institute of Child Development, a registered non-profit research organisation in social science studies, this year’s topic, “Sustainability and the Return to Humanity” was a call to educators to reflect on their role in creating a future for the sustainable existence of the planet and of humankind – a task only possible once we truly understand our humanity, our place in the world and how this responsibility can be fulfilled. The two day conference saw an attendance of 500 participants across China. Jasmine Jacob, on behalf of the Indaba Foundation, joined speakers from across the globe to challenge our understanding of what it means to be human and emphasise how the principles underlying Montessori practice can help shed light on this topic.

The conference kicked off on the Saturday morning with a message from the AMI President, Global Ambassador and Executive Director respectively who reminded us of the current state of the world and its children, what this great task of sustainability would require on a global perspective and lessons we can take from influencers such as Dr Maria Montessori, who succeeded in understanding our common humanity by placing the child at the centre of education. The Founder of the AMI China Affiliate society, Aidi Chen, spoke about how we often forget that the way we connect with our inner self is the way we connect with the world and emphasised the power of what she called ‘goodness’. Reconnecting to our humanity, she said, is therefore a return to the truth, to kindness and purity, the return to a better self that is able to fulfil its duty to the world. This message was reinforced by Partnership for Change Founder Ingrid Stange, who shared practical examples of how such work can be done in any context, and by Doctor of Education of Harvard University, Dr Zhang Cong who showed the evidence of the power of positive work with children on their development. Many more stories of progress were shared at the conference and added weight to the fact that the humanity we search for exists in the communities we form part of, lies in the stories our grandparents shared of growing up and is not something we need to create but is rather a place we need to return to.

Jasmine used the example of the Lynedoch community to share the collective work of the organisations working in Lynedoch, how it began with the Sustainability Institute with the focus on the child, and flourished with the common need for a sustainable, inclusive and equitable future for South Africa as a whole. She shared how this search for humanity started with a focus on soil, soul and society and that it was by putting the children of Lynedoch at the heart of the community that the needs of humanity and an understanding of how these needs could be met, was realised. With the child as a focus, the need to care for water, to replenish our soils, to be responsible with our waste, to grow nutritious food, to look for better ways to create energy and keep our air clean – all became clear. Jasmine also shared that although South Africa – listed as the most unequal country in the world in 2019 – has immense challenges it needs to overcome to achieve this vision of a sustainable future, we learned from the past that changes were made by people that believed a different future was possible. It is as a collective that we have seen how work with teachers and children can help change the educational landscape, transform our communities and help us walk the road to return to humanity.

There is great wisdom in the African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone; If you want to go far, go together” and we hope to continue to build relationships with not only the members of our community but those in communities across the globe who want to go far to achieve this vision of a sustainable and humane future.