New Internationalist

The Inheritors: children from five continents on ‘What we want when we’re 40’

June 1976

The children of today will inherit the world of tomorrow. But what kind of environment do they want? The New Internationalist asked schoolchildren in Europe, the United States, India, Australia and Sierra Leone to imagine their world in the year 2000.

The USA and Sierra Leone:nuclear-jets and tarmac roads

The answers from schoolchildren in Segbwema, Sierra Leone, and New York and Washington, USA, revealed expectations of their future which are as different as the realities of their present. When talking about their homes, for example, many of the American children envisaged self-contained ‘living cubes’ where ‘you will be able to get any item you want from your “handy-dandy” computer. All liquids will be piped in, milk, soft drinks, scotch and water. And food will come into each apartment from a computer-run “dumb waiter”.’

The children of Sierra Leone, on the other hand, were well represented by Alusanatu Koroma who writes: ‘I would like my people to live in new houses so that they will not fall down easily. The houses should be made with stone blocks and be two storeys high.’ ‘They should last a long time,’ added Esther Batty, ‘and they will cost £150.’

Many of the American children expected schools to be a thing of the past by the year 2000 – education will be brought into the home ‘by computerized teaching screens’. Almost all the children of Sierra Leone who wrote about schools said that there should be more of them.

‘There should be mores schools and lower fees,’ said Alice Saidu, ‘because not everyone will like to live in an illiterate world.’

‘People would encourage their children to be more educated in every subject,’ wrote Fatmata Kotoma, ‘so that they will be able to improve their country in the year 2000.’

What kind of clothes did the children hope to be wearing at the end of the century? ‘All people in the world will have thick and light materials for dresses,’ said Alice Juana of Sierra Leone. ‘They will wear the thick materials in the winter and the light ones in the summer.’ Some of the Sierra Leone girls also had their sights set on a pair of platform-soled shoes by the year 2000.

Cindy Biller from Washingt‘The clothes will be made out of paper material like they make sheets of now,’ she writes. You will only wear them once and then throw them away. You won’t need any washers or dryers and that will save energy.’

Habitat

Moving outside domestic concerns, the children’s views on their wider habitat clashed more poignantly. Many of the African children wanted nothing more than to live in a city. Many of the American children wanted nothing more than to escape it.

The streets will be paved and places will not be dusty. The towns will have clean streets and nice roads. There should not be beggars, poor people, or sick people. Everybody should have homes

‘The towns will be large and famous and there will be many people in them,’ wrote Alusanatu Koroma of Sierra Leone. ‘The streets will be paved and places will not be dusty. The towns will have clean streets and nice roads. There should not be beggars, poor people, or sick people. Everybody should have homes. Towns and cities and villages will have things like electricity and machines for cleaning rice. I would like the towns to be like the cities with big places like supermarkets and cinema halls.’

‘But,’ adds her classmate Alice Saidu, ‘not everyone will have the privilege of living in cities.’

New Yorker Juard Basmagy does not consider living in a city to be a privilege. ‘Cities must go,’ he writes. ‘I hate the city, I hate everything about it. There is no room in the world for these centres of noise and pollution. The life I want to live is a simple life, uncluttered by electronic this and electronic that. I dream of clear running water, of a world not of concrete structures but of green rolling hills.’

Imagining the kind of transport available when he is 40, Michael Jablonski of Brooklyn sees himself ‘in a “mini jet” that is powered by nuclear energy which everything in the world is now powered by. The jet could go straight up and straight down and go as far as I wanted it to go, to other planets and other solar systems. By then, going to other planets and other solar systems will be like just walking across the street. Cars are still very common, powered by the same energy as planes (nuclear).’

Alice Juana of Sierra Leone on the other hand, anticipates that ‘transport will be by railways and roads. The roads will be made of tar and every part of the bridges would be made properly. Telephones will also be used.’

Food and health

Food, for these future 40-year-olds, has very different meanings. Enough of the right kind of food for everybody was number one consideration in Sierra Leone. And Alusantu Voromo says that in the year 2000 ‘I will only eat foods that will not have much starch in them.’ Washington’s Cindy Biller had a different preoccupation – ‘Candy and bacon will be good for you and milk and fruit won’t. There will probably be diseases in all the things that we think are good now. We won’t be able to drink water because it will be so polluted and instead of water in our pipes soft drinks will come through (very healthy!)’

Health was another prime consideration for the children of Segbwema. ‘I would first of all like to be a doctor,’ writes Ramatu Janneh, ‘so that I could cure my people from their sicknesses and live a happy life. All of us should be strong and active.’

When you become useless, like when you are 65 years old, you will be put in a machine that makes you stop living

Cancer was number one concern for the American children and several of them hoped that by the year 2000 there will be a safe cigarette. Some frightening opinions about the future of medicine were expressed – ‘When you become useless, like when you are 65 years old,’ wrote one child, ‘you will be put in a machine that makes you stop living.’

All the children were aware of the population issue but there were wide differences in what constituted a large family. L K H of Washington thinks population growth is the most serious problem in the world. ‘But how can we stop it?’ he asks angrily. ‘No-one listens to us. Grown-ups think we are “too little and innocent to understand” and they don’t give our ideas a second thought.

‘Why doesn’t President Ford pass a law on over-population,’ he demands, ‘like having two kids to a family?’

For the children of Sierra Leone, two babies were not considered enough. ‘I would like my family to be a small size,’ writes Esther Batty, ‘just seven in our family, five children, my husband and myself. But perhaps other people would have a large family.’

‘A woman should not deliver more than five babies,’ thinks Admire Saidu, ‘but I will need children and helpers in any of my troubles.’

Pollution

Pollution, not mentioned by the children of Sierra Leone, was a prime worry for the American children. ‘Our environment, our air and our water, is disgraceful at this point,’ writes Sheila Kuritsky. ‘My feeling is that if companies today don’t smarten up their ideas, people in the year 2000 will have to use oxygen masks. Many people are dying because of air pollution. Something has to be done now about this before it is too late.’

If companies today don’t smarten up their ideas, people will have to use oxygen masks. Many people are dying because of air pollution

L K H of Washington is not as worried. ‘Some genius will build a giant bubble over the United States,’ he believes. ‘And our factories will pollute outside the bubble so the air inside is fresh.’

‘In 25 years,’ he continues, ‘I don’t think anything will be the same. People will have huge noses and lungs, because of the debris that comes with the oxygen.’

Women and peace

The children of America and Sierra Leone also hold many convictions in common. A typical view from the girls of both nations was that the world in the year 2000 would be a better place with women in charge. Imagining the scene in 25 years, one American girl thinks ‘our biggest accomplishment is our woman President and, I might add, she is turning out to be the best President since Washington.’

Yaweinya Williams of Sierra Leone writes: ‘I would like the governments to pass a law that men should be under the control of women.’

From both schools, child after child expressed the hope that in their world there would be peace.

‘The most important thing I would like to see is peace in the world,’ writes Regina Brun of New York. ‘And all the countries will be joined in one large peaceful nation, sharing ideas and plans for a bigger and better and peaceful world.’

Many of the children equate peace with the abolition of governments and nation states. Cheryl Ehrenworth imagined the world run by UHN (Union of Human Nations) and divided up in to 96 quadrants – her husband is going to be the representative of the 15th quadrant.

Politics

The disillusionment of the American children about politics and business comes through clearly in the words of Ellen Friedman who writes ‘I would be happy if the environment in the year 2000 was an honest, non-competitive one. Political corruption would be abolished, media and big business wouldn’t be ripping the consumer off, and people would live to improve themselves for their own benefit.’

An equally strong conviction, coming from the children of both nations, was that there should be more equality in the year 2000 and that the needs of all the people should be provided for. Michael Twardowski of New York would like a world in which ‘there is true equality between people – a world in which there is only one class of mankind, not rich or poor.’

I would be happy if the environment in the year 2000 was an honest, non-competitive one. Political corruption would be abolished, media and big business wouldn’t be ripping the consumer off

Alice Juana of Sierra Leone hopes that ‘people will forget all the bad things that have happened in the past’ and that ‘things will be very cheap so that even the poorest person will be able to buy things’.

John Manan of New York dreams of a world with no possessions at all. ‘Nothing will belong to anybody,’ he explains, ‘except their own thoughts and possibly another person’s heart.’

‘You would walk about the streets,’ he adds, ‘and listen to live music while examining fine art work.’

A final sad and striking contrast is that many of the Sierra Leone children aspired to an American way of life which many of the American children themselves were profoundly disillusioned with. ‘In the year 2000,’ writes Esther Batty of Sierra Leone, ‘I would like to be far away from my home town in a place of new hope. I want a good and peaceful place for me and my husband. I would not go with any husband but marry one in my new country. That country is America, if the Lord answers my prayer to him about my future.’ ‘When I am forty,’ writes Brian Connaly from the United States, ‘I hope I am not living here. I would like to live in a place where there will not be so much violence, nervous breakdowns, noise, pollution and competition. I want to live in peace with friendly people.’

New Internationalist would like to thank the pupils and staff of the Njaluahan Girls’ Secondary School, Sierra Leone, and the Beach Channel High and the Edmund Burke schools in the United States who participated in this feature.

India – Terry-cotton and sunglasses

These letters were written, in the Hindi or Marathi language, by schoolchildren in Maharashtra, India. The New Internationalist would like to thank the schoolchildren who participated. Our thanks also to Marcus Thomson of Oxfam, Nagpur, and Vilma Colaco of Vistas for their help in obtaining these contributions.

When I am 35 years of age everyone must have sufficient food and adequate shelter.
I want a nice house, terry-cotton clothes, shoes and sunglasses and an educated wife. I want to become a minister and a chance to serve people. I want a jeep to take my wife for rides. The roads of the future must be much better than those of today. For my entertainment I want a radio, a television and lights in the house. I will start a factory and help the poor people. Those underprivileged people who don’t have land and houses will, through my efforts, get the above from the government. For the benefit of my village as well as the neighbouring villages I will start a canal.
I will plant fruit trees and have vegetable gardens. I hope that all I have said comes true.
G V Rohokale, aged 12

Housing – on every planet I will have a big flat. Besides that, I will have a flying house for myself. So that I will be able to go anywhere I wish. It will be an air-conditioned house with a small garden. This house will not only fly, but will float on water and run on road.
Clothing – I will wear nicest clothes. One dress for morning, another for afternoon and yet another for evening – all of them very fashionable.
Salary – in my opinion, I will need a salary of not less than Rs4,000 a month – God knows what heights prices will reach by that time!
Profession – I will prefer technical line. I will be contractor of the above mentioned houses.
Family – myself, my wife, two sons, a daughter, my parents and a servant for household work.
Equal rights – there will be no question of equal rights. Everybody will go anywhere according to his wish. Rich people will migrate to other planets and those without money will have to stay on Earth only.
Atomic energy will be used everywhere, even in houses for fuel. People will be lazy because of machines.
No famines will be there due to artificial rains.
Students will be very happy in 2000 as there will be computers at their hands and no taxation of brains for them.
A S Tekade

I want to become a doctor. I want a good job, please help me to get one. When I am 40 let there be happiness in my state.
For the people and me there must be good clothes available. Trousers, shirts, etc. I want sweets to eat.
I want a highly educated wife. I want facilities for good food and travel – this is my request.
There must be no criminals in the world. The poor must be happy.
If people who are poor are given food and shelter it would be very good. People should have sufficient land and irrigation facilities. I want to be rich. I want at least Rs 1,000 as dowry. For entertainment I want a radio and a telephone.
There must be no fighting in the village. The village must be clean.
The poor should get transport facilities. There must be big flour mills and cloth mills in the village. I want big bungalows to live in. Criminals must be jailed. In order that people may not take to crime we must make efforts to provide them with land, good jobs and clothes.
I want to study a lot. I want a cot to sleep on. A vehicle to move around in and above all I want to be very rich.
Babju Bapunao Kali, aged 12

When I am 35 years of age I want to be a leader. I want a motor-cycle. I want a nice house, fine clothes (bell-bottom pants and terry-cotton shirts). When I am 35 years of age I want there to be English schools everywhere.
The people must be happy. The people must have fine houses, clothes, radios, television, etc.
For my daily meals I want bajaas, eggs, mutton etc. For the house I want chairs, tables, camera, sunglasses, suitcases, lights, tube-lights. People must become rich.
The poor must have clothes, houses, food and schools for their children. There must be big temples. There must be bhajans and kirtans [religious songs] in the temples. The temples must be clean.
I hope the world is fine for me and that I don’t become poor. I also hope that people stop drinking and that drinking is banned. Everyone must improve their status.
I want to see religious plays and films. After I become a leader there must be mass meetings. I want fine soaps for a bath, the mud roads must be tarred, and at places of pilgrimage there must be free eating-houses and there must be no bullying.
There must be many fruit markets. I want to become a double graduate. I want to remove irresponsible ministers. There must be canals, water tanks and gardens in fron of each ouse and taps in each house.
Ashok Bhavrao Gund, aged 12

I want to become a teacher and a double graduate. I want a jeep, fine clothes, shoes. I want to study in a city.
If I don’t become a teacher I will become a leader. I want a table, a chair, bungalow, mattress, a necklace, cloth-shop, sweets and tea three times a day.
When I am in college I will stay in the city, cook my own food and eventually got to Delhi. When I return home the people at home will start crying. I will tell them not to worry because I have become a leader.
Bajinao Yeshwant Yevale, aged 12

Australia - lawn mowers and gas mask murders

The New Internationalist would like to thank the pupils of Australian schools who wrote the following letters. Our thanks also to former New Internationalist staff-member Sue Tuckwell for obtaining these contributions.

As we zoom 24 years ahead we will see, or will we be able to see, through the pollution? Yes, we will for it will have been disintegrated by the laser beams which each house will have for general use. Such as cutting lawns, etc. But will this really be true! Not really, but your lawn will probably not need to be cut, as a computer will control the amount of water and fertilizer it needs to keep it at the same height. But then again why will you need grass? You won’t step outside – molecular transporters will move you from place to place in a flash. That last point answers any query about transport. Instead of motor transport as we know it, molecular transporters will move people from place to place thus eliminating carbon monoxide pollution.
John Lear

We will have flying saucers to the moon every 25 minutes.
T Farrell

The clothes are made of a kind of material which could be folded into a square about the size of an average envelope and are just as thin. These clothes when shaken out are never crushed. When wearing them you never felt hot or cold – they seemed to change with the weather.
Katrina Daly, aged 14

We are very conscious of our environment at present, and it is this fact which will save our world from total destruction through water and air pollution. A machine will have been perfected to gradually change Earth back to a clean healthy planet. Air flows into the machine where the ‘smog’ is separated from the clean air, this clean air is then released into the atmosphere and the smog, which is solid, can then be buried under barren desert areas.
Judy Soper, aged 15

Pollution would increase as concrete and steel take over. The world would be black and gas masks would be worn at all times. Murder and suicide would increase because it would be easier to remove the gas mask, then to stab yourself or someone else.
We will probably have holiday houses on the moon and guided tours around the universe in another 40 years.
Family life would become extinct because they would be away from each other so much. For instance, while Dad’s on Venus playing gold and Mum’s on Pluto doing her shopping, the kids might be on an excursion out of the galaxy.
Helen Grant, aged 14

I think that the 21st century will be over-populated, over-polluted and in a big mess. There will even be mess coming out of the taps. I am sorry to say it but I think the next century will be a disaster.
Louise Lander, aged 14

But there is still time if we join forces and help each other.
Jennifer Carey, aged 13

This feature was published in the June 1976 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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