This African saying is believed to originate from the Igbo and Yoruba people of Nigeria. But, the idea that ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child’ is fundamental to many African cultures. So what exactly does it mean, and why does it have a positive impact on the child’s development?
The main idea behind the saying is that it takes a whole community, and not just two parents, to bring up a child. The extended family have an important role to play. For example, a child often spends extended periods of time under the care of their grandparents, aunties, or uncles. Cousins and siblings also act as role models to their younger family members.
CHILDREN ARE A BLESSING
This philosophy is closely linked with the African belief that children are a blessing. The entire community is delighted whenever a child is born, so everyone would like to take responsibility for their upbringing.
The principle that a whole village should contribute to raising a child has many advantages. Firstly, it is psychologically proven that a child benefits from having multiple role models. Also, with family, friends, and neighbours looking after them, the child is able to thrive in a secure and loving environment. The safety net provided by the community enables them to explore and learn without coming to harm.
Secondly, pressure is taken off the parents. Mothers and fathers have one of the most difficult jobs in the world. They work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and nobody pays them for it. If the entire community takes part in raising their child, then the parents will feel less isolated, less stressed, and therefore happier. If the parent is happy, then so is the child.
Thirdly, this philosophy brings the whole community together, building trust between its members. It teaches us that we need each other, and so we have to learn to get along, forgiving each other if we make mistakes. The child also learns to love his community, and look out for his family, friends and neighbours.
THE INFLUENCE OF AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY ON THE WEST
This African philosophy is so respected, that it has had a profound influence on Western culture. In Australia, mothers have used it to set up ‘street gangs’, where neighbours work together to raise their children, taking it in turns to take them to school and cook meals. This enables mothers to have a career, while looking after their children. Hilary Clinton, the candidate for the Democratic party in the US presidential election, has also published a book under the title It takes a village.
In the West, it is uncommon to be friendly with our neighbours. We often feel isolated, and that we could do with a stronger community spirit. Thus we can learn from the African philosophy that ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child.’