Do you know what your children want to be when they grow up? Maybe a doctor? A pop star? Or perhaps captain of the All Blacks?

ChildFund, through its second annual Small Voices, Big Dreams global survey asked thousands of children from around the world including New Zealand, just that.

The online survey put six questions to kids from across the country and the globe, looking for insights and wisdom into what our children need, fear and hope for – it’s just one of the ways we give a voice to the most vulnerable. The results showed that while Kiwi kids remain optimistic in their outlook, their aspirations differ widely from their peers in developing nations, and not always in the way you might expect.

Nearly a quarter of Kiwi kids surveyed said they wanted to be professional sports players when they grew up, and another 20 per cent wanted to be artists or entertainers. This was very similar to responses from children growing up in Australia and the USA, though undoubtedly, surveying young New Zealanders several weeks before the Rugby World Cup may have influenced their responses!

Meanwhile, almost half of children living in poverty in developing countries aspired to have professional careers as doctors, lawyers or teachers. Perhaps, growing up in abject poverty compels these children to seek roles that will give back to their communities in a tangible way.

And what if they grew up to be Prime Minister? As leader of their country, Kiwi kids also had a very different view on what they would do to help children, with around a quarter pledging more and better food to be available.

From such an answer, it’s clear our children have a growing consciousness of the world’s problems, such as the Horn of Africa crisis, and this is affecting their priorities. While my two sons (aged 5 and 6) are younger than the group surveyed, I can see from how they behave and the questions they put to me, that they have access to information (through school, news and the internet) that’s making them consider global issues like famine, with greater tenacity. Just the other day, the three of us talked through whether Santa would bring food to children in Kenya…

In contrast, more than half of children in developing countries, many of whom would be struggling with some degree of hunger, viewed improving education as the priority to help overcome the problems facing their countries, with food a very distant second.

We can only reason that children who grow up in poverty see hunger as a constant, unchangeable state, but recognise the power that education has to break the cycle of poverty. It speaks volumes that so many of these children have a strong focus on improving access to education, and dream of becoming someone who can make a difference to the wealth or health of their country.

Finally, the ChildFund survey also asked children how they would keep children safer. Kiwi children had many insightful suggestions around increasing the safety and security of their peers, including employing more police to arrest the offenders and help provide safer home environments, as well as halting the sale of weapons and toughening criminal laws.

Whether we’ve grown-up ourselves to be parents, teachers, business or community pillars, or members of our newly elected Government, we must remember we are all leaders of children in some respect.

What we can collectively learn from this survey is that we need to listen; really listen, to what children need, fear and strive for. As a dad to two boys with young inquisitive minds I realise there is much I can learn from them: their thinking is raw, authentic and uncluttered. Like the children we work with in developing countries, they are powerful agents in bringing change to their lives.

The next step is to help our children process the challenging situations they face on a regular basis by knowing who they can turn to for help.

Children told us that they feel safest at home and that’s where they should be supported first. I encourage all New Zealanders to broaden their discussions at home to widen your children’s awareness of the opportunities and issues facing the global community.

ChildFund New Zealand connects Kiwis with more than 22,000 sponsored children in developing countries with pen-pal relationships often struck between the children and younger members of the sponsor family. This heightens awareness of what is going on in their lives on a daily basis, and opens up the eyes of New Zealand children to the challenges faced by communities living in poverty. Conversation leads to awareness and action.

In New Zealand the dream of becoming whatever you want to be, even Prime Minister or Captain of the All Blacks, is so real because of the many opportunities that exist. We still have much work to do ensure children everywhere are able not only to dream the biggest dream but also to make those dreams reality.

International aid agency ChildFund’s second annual Small Voices Big Dreams Survey polled 4,600 children aged 10 to 12 from 36 developing countries and 8 developed nations including 100 voices from New Zealand. For more details please go to: www.childfund.org.nz

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