The Freddie Stories
By Paul Vincent Cable
These stories sprung out of a wonderful visit to Oasis Kindergarten school in Kibera, Nairobi. This fantastic school has around 60 children in it, ranging from the age of 3 to 6. I was especially struck by the devotion of the staff to the children, led by their charismatic headmistress Ms Winnie. During my visit, we talked about developing a strong foundation of wisdom and compassion in the children, even at their tender age.
The challenge for me in helping them do that was that I was due to fly back to London the next day and was not due back in Kenya for several months. We hit upon the idea of Skype lessons and began a few days later me on my smart phone in London and the 60 children arrayed in front of the sole computer at the school in Nairobi. Although by this point, I had spent over a decade helping develop programmes for wise and compassionate living for young people, I had hardly taught this age group before. I didn’t know what would work and what would not, beyond an intuitive sense that stories would be a powerful medium. So I sat that first day on our sofa at home waiting for the call, with the elements of a story in my mind and a simple loving-kindness exercise figured out. But I had a feeling something was missing. How would these young children, watching me tell a story on a blurry screen, with an intermittent internet connection, and listening in English (their second or third language), really feel involved in the stories?
Just as we were about to begin the call, my wife, Agi, hit upon a brilliant idea. She handed me her soft toy frog to show the children. As we started the call, I held up the frog and said “Hello children, my name is Freddie the Frog. Would you like to hear a story about me and my friends?” The children grinned, and I knew straight away that we had something. “Mr. Paul and Freddie” talked on Skype with the children once a week for a whole academic year, with a new story each week, with Ms Winnie translating into Swahili any words the children didn’t understand. After each story, it felt very natural to go into a loving-kindness practice, with the children wishing themselves, their friends, all children in the world, their mums and dads, their teachers, all grownups, and all the animals, “May you be happy! May you be safe!”
The teachers reported that, even after a handful of sessions, the children were noticeably kinder to each other in the playground and at meal times. Towards the end of the year, the parents reported that the lessons were making a big difference to the family at home, with the children becoming spontaneously generous with their toys and food, and wishing their parents and siblings, “May you be happy! May you be safe!” whenever they could see that someone was upset. One parent touchingly said, “Freddie has changed all our lives.” Such is the power of loving-kindness and the other beautiful qualities of heart that the friends encourage in each other generosity, awareness, and the courage to do the right thing.
There are 21 stories. Each story is followed by a round of loving-kindness. I wish you and your students much joy with the stories as you bring Freddie, Donnie, Robbie, Leoni, and Jennie into your lives.
May you be Happy! May you be Safe!
Paul Vincent Cable