Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Learning compassion through children's literature

I mentioned in the prior post that I feel like children learn compassion through reading quality children's literature.  We don't have access to a library like we did in the states and I enjoy holding a physical book when I read to the girls at night, so often we are scrounging around trying to find the next good book to read.  Along our travels I came across an old unabridged version of three stories by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  We recently finished "A Little Princess."

I read it myself many times when I was young, but had forgotten how rich the vocabulary is throughout the book.  I was worried the girls wouldn't understand the story because I felt as if every sentence needed explaining.  It certainly followed the advice of "reading stories aloud to children that are above their current reading level" that I often hear as I study the development of good reading skills.  However, despite the interruptions and explanations, they were very involved in the story and couldn't believe that the "Indian Gentleman" was looking for Sarah Crewe and didn't know she lived only next door.  The suspense in their faces every night was worth all the pausing to explain what a particular word meant.

There are so many wonderful themes and stories throughout the book.  Rich stories about strength, humility, dignity, and courage are spread throughout the book.  The girls soaked in life lessons as they listened to the story unfold.

One small part of the book (it seemed at the time) was when Sarah gave up most of her bread on a day when she was starving and could have easily justified eating it all herself.  Instead, she saw a child that was hungrier and even more desperate than she was at the time and gave 5 out of her 6 buns away to the other girl.  This struck the notice of the bakery owner in the story who was astounded that a small starving girl would give away her food to another little girl.  We talked about it then (her compassion towards the little girl), but it wasn't until the end when we see how that seemingly small act of kindness changed the little girl's (Anne, it turns out was her name) entire life.  Not only was there an act of charity that fed a little girl, but she eventually was taken in by the shop keeper as her child.

We talked a long time about that, how that small thing Sarah had done (which was really a big thing for Sarah in that desperate moment of her life) changed someone's life for the better.  We talked about compassion and about understanding the desperation in being hungry and knowing what it is to walk in the same shoes as another child.  We talked about that she was generous in her poverty and she was generous in her wealth at the end of the story.

It made me think of DRC and our lives there.  How time and time again I was humbled by the generosity and compassion of those that had so little towards others in their communities. We talked about compassion, about what it means to think about the struggles of another child as if you were that child.  We finished the book talking about how the small decisions to act in kindness to those around you, to those that are in your path, are often much bigger in the eyes of the person who is struggling in that moment. How an act of compassion or a listening ear helps each of us know in a deep way we are not alone.  We talked about how giving and acting in kindness often changes our hearts too.  We talked about the daily choices we have in our attitudes and how gratitude can change the color of our world.

Sarah and Anne, at the end of the book shook hands and looked at each other with the acknowledgement that they were the same, that the difference in wealth didn't change their common humanity.  And that they cared about each other.  It is a challenge for all of us, to choose compassion instead of selfishness, to walk in gratitude for what we have, to choose humility over false pride, to choose forgiveness over anger and resentment, and to listen and act in love instead of fear.

Two girls in the morning in Tanzania.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sheltering our kids (googling stun grenades)

Overall, I haven't jumped into too many topics that are tough with the kids.  Natalie is 7 1/2 and though she gets it that there are "mean" people in the world and that bad things happen, I somehow have wanted her to believe there is mostly good and beautiful around her.   And in order to do that, I try to shelter her from some of the harsh realities, suffering, evil, and desperate pain in the world around her.  We read children's book that talk about big topics that can be scary for children but often when they are presented in away that children can understand, I find she is less overwhelmed and scared.

Despite all my best intentions, I can't always shelter her from all of the pain, suffering, tragedy and the truly evil things people can do to each other.  I realized this last spring, shortly before school let out here in Tanzania.  It had been a normal day, the girls were all at school.  I was sitting in the same place I am right now, when I started hearing "booms".  I ignored them at first, thinking maybe they were fireworks.  But they continued and I had to admit to myself that they seemed much louder than the normal firework.  The thought "bomb" crossed my mind, but I didn't give it much attention.

Soon I began receiving texts from friends explaining that there were street riots happening in town over the police trying to physically remove street vendors off the streets (we live close to the center of town) and I should stay home for now.  I learned that tear gas was being used.  That still didn't explain all the "booms" that continued to go on. I also thought of one of our girls that was across the town in preschool, not in the main school that was close to our house where the other three girls went to school.  I made the decision to go get her early.  As I was waiting for the taxi to come, a friend wrote and told me the loud booming noises were from "stun grenades".  I had no idea what they were and googled them.  I learned they were non-lethal grenades and used with tear gas sometimes.  I was grateful for that information, because though I still startled with every boom I heard and knew it meant people were hurt and scared (which in and of itself was awful), I knew at least that people were not being bombed and killed.

It was a long day.  Thankfully I was able to get my daughter without problems.  The streets were quiet and other than young men running from the market area we encountered no problems.  It was 10 hours of  loud "booming", though.  The other three girls came home from school in the afternoon, they seemed fine overall, kids are resilient.  But when I asked my oldest daughter about what had been explained to her at school about the noises she told me that she had been told they were "bombs".  I asked her what she thought that meant and she told me she thought people were killing each other.

It struck me that she had sat in class all day thinking people were dying.  I explained to her that though there are bombs that kill people that is not what that noise was today and though people were hurt and scared, people were (hopefully) not being killed.  She was reassured.  And I couldn't help but think about other moms around the world that hear bombs and wonder about their children at school and don't have the assurance google brought to me, that instead of non-lethal means being used, family and friends were dying.  I wondered about the conversations they had with their children about bombs that do kill and what that does to the hearts of little children.

Last week, Natalie again was faced with human cruelty.  We found out the neighbor of a friend had had acid thrown on his face and chest and was in critical condition at the local hospital.  I tried to make sure Natalie wasn't around when it was brought up, but she overheard from someone else a couple days later.  How do you explain to a child why someone would do such an awful act to someone else?  I floundered.  Most of all I was at a loss, because I don't have the answers myself even though I know that evil (sin) exists and the world is a broken place.  Still, on a heart level, I just cannot grasp such cruelty and I don't know how to explain things like this to a child.  And again, I wondered about other mothers and what they are having to explain to their children around the world.

Natalie came home from school with these prayer flags shortly after the street riots last spring.  "I hope Isla never ever get killed buy a bane (bomb)." And, "I hope my dad never ever gets a bad infecssen (infection) ever agan". 

Lately, I have been talking to Natalie a lot about beauty and goodness, the awe-inspiring world we live in.  The God who created it all.  About love and kindness. About helping the person in your path and never withholding forgiveness and grace. About being a person of peace.  I don't know if they are answers, but somehow I find that when my eyes are turned in the direction of a loving God, the world He made, and the love of my family and friends, a peace comes that I cannot explain.  That we are never alone, even in the darkest moments.  Immanuel.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What we are doing in Tanzania (100 giving 22).

What are we doing in Tanzania?  I say "we" because though it is really my husband's job and work, I feel like I am a part of it because I support and care for our family.  We are in it together.  Mike works for a wonderful NGO called Project Concern International (PCI).  We moved here just about one year ago.  We are very thankful to have the opportunity to live here and do this work.  And what is the work?  Believe it or not, we are working with school children! Lots and lots of school children--70,000 school children!! Pretty amazing. They are doing a lot of really good work, but the biggest part of their work here in Tanzania is feeding children so they are not hungry in school. 

"The Food for Education program benefits 70,000 children and 880 teachers, and reaches approximately 260,000 community members in the districts of Musoma Rural and Bunda located in the Mara Region of Tanzania, which suffers from some of the highest levels of chronic poverty, persistent drought and food insecurity in the country. These challenges contribute to poor education outcomes in Mara Region, where the pass rates in primary school were a mere 52% for boys and only 34% for girls in 2011, the second worst region in the entire country (BEST, 2011). Prior to project interventions, 90% of female caregivers in Bunda and Musoma Rural districts reported that their children “rarely” or “never” consumed a meal prior to going to school. Through the Food for Education program, the daily meals provided to students in 103 schools are now resulting in significant increases in enrollment and attendance." (source)

As you might know, my thoughts and heart has been on school children a lot recently.  Not only sending off our girls to school (well, for two of them, it is home for school), but on the 70 children we are hoping to send to school this fall in eastern DRC.

For the 70 kids we have been supporting, they will likely never be a part of a government program like the one PCI is doing in Tanzania.  For many reasons, but one of them being that they live in remote areas and spread all over the territory of south Kivu in small village schools.  Our manager had to travel on a motorcycle for one entire day to find one of the schools, and that was just to visit ONE child.  And he was worth it to us. 

Traveling to visit school children in eastern DRC.
The school at the end of the journey

The two children at the end of the journey--brother and sister.

We would love to help all the children in the schools, every one of them deserve to not sit in school hungry.  And we are doing what we can with the children that are the most vulnerable.  The "orphans" that have lost their mothers (a child in that area of DRC is called an "orphan" when they have lost their mother).  We are not only paying their school fees, but we are making sure they have uniforms and notebooks so they can attend school.  And maybe one day we will even do more.  Maybe one day we will be able to help one of their villages in a bigger way.

But the first step is to get the kids to school.  Here in Tanzania, in the 103 schools that are targeted for the school feeding program, the students do not pay tuition; they are government schools.  In eastern DRC, that is not the case, the government schools are not free and many families cannot afford school fees.  7 million children do not attend school in DRC (source).  32% of all secondary aged students do not attend school in DRC (source).  The majority of the children we support to send to school are secondary students that would otherwise not be attending school.  This is a success story.

Honestly, fundraising is not easy.  I don't have anything flashy to share (and even my little giveaway is just that--little).  I'm not the best writer out there.  I can only do my best to advocate for the 70 children that would be easy to forget that live in eastern DRC.  I can only do my best to make sure we don't forget them.  When our manager finally was able to visit all the kids we support this year, the message he received from these kids over and over again was that they were happy to be able to go to school, that their lives were very hard, and yet, they said thank you.

Let's continue to give them hope for a brighter future, that they are not forgoten.  If 100 people each gave $22 we would be able to finish our fundraising and send all the children to school this fall.  Would you consider a one time donation of $22?  Any donations can be given through the paypal links on my blog or our website:  Thank you!  

Yvonne, secondary school

Neema, secondary school

Byemere, secondary school