Solstickan Award Winner with a passion for Class Grandfather
When we meet outside Långholmens Café, I am greeted by a spry, happy and inquisitive gaze peering out from behind a pair of modern glasses. It is hard to believe that Lars Bratt will turn 80 in a couple of months. He is just as vital and engaging today as he was 15 years ago when he started the Class Grandfather Project, which has now grown into a nationwide organization whose work recently earned Lars the Solstickan Award for 2010.
But it all started much longer ago. Lars begins by describing his upbringing in a middle-class home. While no material possessions were lacking there, he experienced an emotionally devoid existence throughout his childhood.
“When the time came for me to form a family myself, the outcome wasn’t so brilliant. I established my career, got married and we had three children. But the carousel of life was spinning in a way that failed to reflect how I felt as a person. Around the age of 40, I ‘quit’ my seemingly happy life and took a simple job with the Swedish National Touring Theater, where I stayed for 16 years. My marriage ended in divorce and my children didn’t exactly look at me with forgiving eyes,” he explains.
But for Lars, this was the start of a new life. A life that enabled him to live in harmony with himself and devote his attention to the things he considered important, for both himself and others. When he started the Class Grandfather Project many years later, he did not find it difficult to relate to all of the children he met who lacked an adult emotional presence in their lives.
“But the project was a long time in the making. Getting school administrations and politicians to pay attention to the Class Grandfather concept took several years. When Ektorpsskolan in Nacka became the first to embrace the idea, we were thrilled to have received such a strong immediate response. The children were exuberant; they wanted to me and the other Class Grandfathers everywhere at all times.”
Lars points out how important adult role models are for children, particularly for boys. With few exceptions, primary school teachers tend to be predominantly women, while math, shop and physical education teachers are often men. Today, the idea of Class Grandmothers is also a well-established concept and a vital part of the project. Lars himself describes Class Grandfathers and Grandmothers as a serious community project that benefits everyone.
“We live in an age-obsessed society, and many people are being excluded from the labor market as young as 50 years old, although people at that age still have much to contribute. I could see a direct link between those unemployed individuals and what is being taught in the scholastic world. As a Class Grandfather, you have the opportunity to carry out an important task and to pass on your knowledge to the people who will be most important in the future: our children.”
Lars explains that the Class Grandfather Project is not part of the educational instruction of schools. Instead, he refers to it as the school of life, with an ethical and moral profile.
“In today’s world, schools lack a sufficiently empathetic adult presence. Relationships between people are just as crucial and it is important to learn this at an early age. Everyone, both young and old, needs to feel that they are seen and acknowledged. Class Grandfathers fulfill this need and the response we receive from the children confirms this.”
The dream for the future is for every class in the country to have access to a Class Grandfather. A total of 11 county organizations are currently in place and the Class Grandfather Project is growing steadily. Continuing to perform well-conceived work based on a shared approach is vital and, as Lars explains, the desire to help other people is what provides the incentive to carry on.
“I realized early on that I had two options. I could either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Today’s society thinks it understands children and, certainly, compared with other countries, children here in Sweden have a very good life. But HOW we take care of our children is what matters. This is what will shape our world in the future. It is a choice we make and that choice cannot only be about giving money, but must also be about the emotional values we instill. It saddens me when I notice that society in general or individual people do not care about, listen to or make time for children.”
Lars explains that Class Grandfather is an interpretation of the Dalai Lama’s teaching that our future lies in the hands of our children. He describes a unique encounter he had with the Dalai Lama himself in Gothenburg in 2005.
“I knew that the Dalai Lama was visiting Gothenburg and wrote a letter to him explaining about the Class Grandfather Project. I wasn’t even expecting a response, but a month later I received a reply and was granted a 20-minute audience to discuss the Class Grandfather concept. It was an unforgettable meeting. The Dalai Lama gave me a warm smile and told me how wonderful he thought the Class Grandfather Project was. Maybe he will pass on what he learned about Class Grandfather and the concept will catch on in other parts of the world.
“I try to live by the Dalai Lama’s words: ‘Your good deeds benefit the entire world.’ And these words say something about how important it is to devote yourself to something other than simply yourself.”
So, Lars, to what organization did you donate the money you received for the Solstickan Award?
“First I would like to say that I am so incredibly proud and happy to have received the Solstickan Award. I knew immediately that I wanted to give the money to the SAMBA organization and its founder, Mats Lindkvist. SAMBA, which stands for ‘Samarbete för prioritering av barn’ (‘Cooperation for the Prioritization of Children’), is an association with 40 branches throughout Sweden that works on practical measures for the benefit of children. It was important to me that the money be put toward practical actions and not simply disappear anonymously into an operating budget.”
Age: Turns 80 this year.
Lives: In Devon in the south of England, and has a summer home outside Oskarshamn, Sweden.
Family: Partner Maj-Britt, three children from a previous marriage, one brother, two half siblings.
Interests: I read a lot, mostly biographies. Personal development is another area that I find extremely interesting. Although I am a die-hard city boy, I am becoming increasingly aware of the wonders of nature. There is so much to see and listen to, and I have learned that nature is restful for the soul.
Hidden talent: I am a good listener and have the ability to put ideas into action.
Class Grandfather Project:
Class Grandfathers for Children is a politically and religiously independent non-profit association in Sweden. Its branches provide dedicated, experienced adults with the basis to offer support and positive role models for children, mainly in primary schools. The idea of strengthening the presence of adults in primary schools with the assistance of unemployed, active men became a reality in 1996. But in the years prior to that, Lars Bratt, one of the driving forces behind the project, was already becoming increasingly concerned about the everyday experience of school children. School resources were shrinking. The number of counselors, psychologists and other student welfare employees had been reduced by more than 20 percent. In today’s schools, male teachers are also a minority. Many children come from broken homes with mothers who have sole custody. Children often do not have a family member who can provide a male role model and a sense of security. Many children are simply starved for contact and meaningful relationships with men who care and take the time to listen.
SAMBA is a group of organizations and individuals with a shared interest who work in various ways for and with children. SAMBA aims to raise society’s prioritization of children and young people and to contribute to ensuring that the initiatives carried out are as effective as possible.