Sunday, November 7, 2010

What do we teach our kids about poverty?

Despite how stretched or stressed your financial life, if you are reading this you are pretty damn lucky.  You are not one of the billion plus people (women, children, elders, men) living in extreme poverty.  Extreme poverty doesn't mean that you can't afford your rent, it means you might not have a roof.  Extreme poverty doesn't mean you can't afford your grocery bill, it means you might eat one meal today.  Extreme poverty means your children don't go to school, don't have access to clean drinking water and are malnourished and unhealthy.  Extreme poverty means that you don't have access to health care or medicines, however basic or inexpensive.  Extreme poverty means your children die from diseases that children in other places get vaccinated against or are never exposed to.  Extreme poverty means a hard life and early death.

One billion people.  One-sixth of the whole world.  That's 1,000,000,000 people.  How do we talk to our kids about this difficult subject?

Our 4 ear old goes to a Quaker preschool, so at school they discuss social justice issues and service to one's community, in ways little people can understand.  I talk to my son about how some people don't have clean water to drink or a warm bed to sleep in, and that it is our job as fellow humans to try to help others however we can. And I guess the talking has paid off.  For Halloween, the boy's school sent home little UNICEF collection boxes to take trick-or-treating.  We didn't take the box trick-or-treating because there was just too much going on at the time.  But we planned on putting the change in our cars in the box, , taking it to work, etc.  When our son returned from collecting all his candy, we told him he could trade in candy for cash or prizes.  He chose cash and received $5 for about 3/4 of his candy.  I told him he could put it in his piggy bank or put it in the UNICEF box, he chose the UNICEF box.  He said, "I want kids to have safe water to drink."  I choked back tears.  I am still beaming with pride.

So my lesson is that it is important to talk to our kids about the scary real world, in order to help them cultivate compassion and understanding.  I don't want my white middle class American boys to think that everyone lives like them and has the same privilege.  The vast majority of humanity does not.  Four isn't too young to understand this.  It's the perfect age to start a life of compassion and service.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post! I have made a point of talking about this kind of stuff with my kids from when they were born ... (ok, so they were a captive audience and I had no one else to listen ...).

    Love your blog ... discovered it via your blogfrog community :)


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