Jungle Schools: Letters from Sarawak 1958 1965 (Hepburn & Assoc. $29.95)
In 1958 Manson Toynbee left West Vancouver to take a one year assignment in the jungle of Sarawak, Borneo and ended up staying seven years. He was the only 'European' within two thousand miles.
In charge of supervising several schools, Toynbee quickly realized that children in Borneo are remarkably self sufficient. On Sunday afternoons the boarders arrived back at the school having walked ten or more miles from their homes.
“Each of them carries a folded palm leaf or a little sack in which he brings his food for a whole week,” he recalls in Jungle Schools: Letters from Sarawak 1958 1965 (Hepburn & Assoc. $29.95). “The food consists of rice and a few dried fish.
“Each of the children goes down to the cook house where he kindles himself a little fire with wood that he has gathered himself. He proceeds to cook a bit of his rice and one or two of his tiny dried fish.
“He must ration out his food carefully, for if he eats too much at the beginning of the week, he will go hungry at the end. After he has had his dinner he puts out his fire and washes his dishes with water he has drawn from the nearby river.
“Nobody tells the child it is time for bed, but he knows that it is. He goes to the little sleeping hut where he lights his lamp which he has made from an empty ink bottle with a piece of string for a wick. He unrolls his nipa palm sleeping mat on the ground, blows out his lamp, and is soon sound asleep.
“The amazing thing is that all of this is with practically no adult supervision. No one supervises the preparation of meals, no one supervises the bathing and the washing, no one supervises the sleeping arrangements, no one supervises the play periods. And remember, these are just 6 to 9 year olds.
“As I watched tiny six year olds looking after themselves in such an efficient and well organized manner, I could not help but feel that we often under estimate the capabilities of little children. We pamper them to the stage where they are required to do absolutely nothing for themselves, and then we wonder why it is that they lack responsibility when they become teenagers.”
Upon his return to Canada in 1966, Toynbee was sent to the West Indies, by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). There he worked as Principal of the St. Lucia Teachers College for five years. Before returning to Saltspring Island in 1986, Toynbee and his wife Mary moved to the Dutch island of Saba, where they spent 13 years teaching and volunteering.