It’s very important to me that my children know how lucky they are to be living in suburban America with two employed, happily married parents that love them. When you consider that there are 147 million orphans worldwide, they got a lucky break both materially and psychologically. I want my kids to be compassionate, caring individuals who are well versed in issues such as global poverty and the AIDS crisis. At the same time, my kids are 4 and 2, so I have to be careful not to overdo it and give them nightmares. Here are some things I do to educate my kids about how lucky they are and how many kids don’t have it so good:
1. My family sponsors a 5 year old little girl from Cambodia, a four year old boy from Ecuador and a six year old girl from Cambodia through World Vision. Their names are Sokea, Rafael and Vichera. World Vision lets you write letters, send small packages and even visit your sponsored child. So far we’ve done letters and packages and one day I fully intend to visit my sponsor kid. In Sokea’s first letter, she told us about her house. It has banana leaves for walls and I’m guessing she doesn’t have her own room full of toys like my daughter has. So we talked about that. We talked about how many toys Elle has and how she could donate the toys she no longer uses to a kid who would like them. She did this happily and we regularly clean out her toys and take them to Goodwill. I think it’s important to take actions steps and not just talk about how lucky we are. That doesn’t help anyone.
2. We pray for Sokea and we pray for orphans. I’ve talked with Elle about how some kids don’t have a mommy or a daddy to take care of them. She totally gets this and it upsets her. She will bring it up on her own out of the blue and say how sad it is for those kids, so I know it sticks with her. We do prayers every night before bed and we pray the same thing for Sokea every night: “Please let her get plenty of food to eat, go to school and have a happy family.” Domestic violence is extremely common in Cambodia, so we pray that her parents love their kids and love each other. With an education she will be able to escape the cycle of poverty. She won’t be limited to subsistence farming or, God forbid, the sex trade as a way to support herself. We also pray for orphans, that they would find families. As far fetched as that might seem, it’s a start. Eventually it will lead to action, whether we adopt or we help friends adopt.
3. We talk about racism. Granted, we talk about it in the simplest of terms, but it starts the conversation. Elle has black and Hispanic kids in her preschool class, so that helps. We talk about how it doesn’t matter what color you are; everybody has the same feelings and wants the same things- to be loved and to have fun. I think this is particularly important in the South where there is still a lot of social segregation.
4. We look at pictures. I’m friends with a lot of NGO’s and ministries on facebook that regularly post pictures of their work. Many of these are little kids. Kids are interested in other kids, so Elle loves seeing these pictures. We talk about how other kids live, what challenges they face. It’s really a matter of orienting her outside of herself and recognizing that other people have bigger problems. I’m hoping it will be hard for her to be a self-absorbed teenager after a lifetime of poverty pictures!
5. We do hands on activities to help people with less than us. We regularly clean out the kids’ rooms and take old toys to Goodwill. The kids help pick out small gifts to be mailed to our sponsor kids- colored pencils, little notebooks, stickers, matchbox cars. We take a trip to the store for them to pick out a present for the sponsor kids and they know they won’t be getting anything. They understand that sometimes we give and sometimes we receive. My four year old understands that we give financially as well. She knows that sending money is important and that giving is a regular part of our life.
These may sound like little things, but it’s these kinds of things over and over throughout the course of their shared childhood that create an attitude of compassion and generosity. They will give as adults because they watched Mommy and Daddy give. They will be knowledgable about poverty because it was discussed in their home. As parents we can’t only tell our children how to be compassionate. We have to show them.