Teaching Children About Poverty — and Generosity
What are some heartwarming examples proving that you don’t have to be rich to help people in need?
- If you authentically infuse the ideas of service, connection and compassion into your family's values, your children will live out those values, but in their own way.
- Don't wait for your child to create a plan that moves mountains. But don't underestimate them, either.
- My daughters and I witnessed acts of great generosity during our stay in West Africa.
- When we acknowledge that humanity is one and we share a common destiny, then our actions to better the world cease to be "charity," or a handout.
Betty is one of the hundreds of thousands of refugees from the gruesome civil war in northern Uganda.
She and her fellow Acholi tribeswomen committed themselves to earning funds to send to the victims of Hurricane Katrina for their basic necessities, which resulted in over $1,000 being sent to Gulf Coast families.
This act of generosity is mind-boggling when you consider that the women's income is less than $1 per day, and is earned by pounding stones from the quarry — by hand — that will be used in smaller pieces for road and housing construction.
The income barely supports their families, but these young and old women knew what it was like to lose their homes and were reaching out to help others who had lost theirs. They didn't doubt this was something they needed to do, and they didn't question if their contribution would make a difference.
Their astonishing generosity embodies the idea that one doesn't need to be wealthy in order to help others. When Americans have experienced true need and crises, the world community has pitched in to help us — just as Americans give abundantly to benefit countless causes around the world.
Dixie Duncan, a mom who helped start Wheels for Africa with her son Winston, says, "I grew up poor in South Carolina and I'm a single mom working full time. I knew I couldn't not afford to show my son the world.
“When I heard there was a direct flight to South Africa, costing $600 for Winston and $800 for me, I started saving for it. I always wanted to go to Africa… After our trip, we started collecting bikes and running the organization. It isn't easy, but it's changed our lives."
My daughters and I witnessed acts of great generosity during our stay in West Africa. On one occasion, we had gone to visit family friends, the Tambas, who lived in a decent hut off a long dirt path. We stayed about an hour, discussing everything from our children to world events.
Early in the visit, I had commented on the strikingly beautiful rooster in their yard — full-bodied, black, with turquoise feathers in its tail. As we were leaving, Mrs. Tamba held the rooster by its feet and offered it to me.
She said that she had wanted to find us an adequate gift and now that she knew I liked the proud rooster, the family insisted that we take it. I held back a shriek when the bird was thrust toward me, and once I regained composure, I was overwhelmed by their generosity.
This family relies on the eggs, chicks and even the droppings for fertilizer for their daily existence. The closest analogy to our lives might be to offer your car to a visitor who compliments you on it.
My brother-in-law explained in Wolof to Mrs. Tamba that we were honored by their gift, but we would be out all day and couldn't keep the bird. Perhaps we could take a picture of their family with the rooster to keep the memory? They agreed, and that picture is a precious reminder of our days in The Gambia.
When we acknowledge that humanity is one, and we share a common destiny, then our actions to better the world cease to be "charity," or a handout. We're no longer looking from the outside in.
Giving and serving make us whole. If we never give, we are deprived of something almost as vital as our five senses. The world's religions all teach this, and wise people have known this forever, it seems.
We learn about kids organizing lemonade stands that raise millions of dollars for cancer research, mobilizing thousands of volunteers for literacy or environmental campaigns, forming a group to lend their allowance money to an entrepreneur in Mali, refusing to purchase T-shirts made under slavery-like child labor conditions across the planet, and preferring items whose profits will benefit "good causes," from salad dressing to sneakers.
When our children become aware of these examples, they may aspire to them. Indeed, many have blazed trails with creative initiatives that have raised millions of dollars and touched many thousands of lives.
At the same time, parents need to be content when their children are aware of good examples but don't seem moved to action. Not every child wants to be an activist or get involved, at least not right now.
Like a seed that's been planted, they might do something years from now, when no one is looking. They could be watching and waiting to get involved in a club in high school, or when presented with the right cause by a friend, mentor or TV show.
There is no set formula for when or how the fruit will show itself. And it's important that you not feel disappointed that you, the passionate activist you've been since you can remember, have borne a child who seems unmoved.
That's probably one of the most difficult struggles of not judging another individual — to not judge the effectiveness or inaction of your own child. Maintain a loving, non-guilt-inducing attitude so your relationship can grow in the long run.
If you authentically infuse the ideas of service, connection and compassion into your family's values, your children will surely benefit and live out those values, but in their own way. And your world will be a better place for it.
Don't wait for your child to create a plan that moves mountains. But don't underestimate them, either.
We live in an amazing time where regular people can impact the world profoundly. Your family can choose a cause you all care about and begin something small. It might just change the world.
Editor’s Note: Excerpted from GROWING UP GLOBAL by Homa Sabet Tavangar. Copyright (c) 2009 by Homa S. Tavangar. Reprinted by arrangement with The Random House Publishing Group.