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.


Ms. Jones said...

Absolutely brilliant!!!!

Mary Hoyt said...

OH! thanks for for the pic of your living room - precious little girls with their books! love to you. wish i could pop over for a cup of tea and our girls could play together. It's a great living room! Makes me happy for all of you. Do you have a separate blog of family life updates since moving to Tanzania? How arrrrreeee you?? We are looking into development work jobs in your part of the world and Central America - also pursuing jobs here to get business experience to offer overseas - who knows....I can dream about being your neighbor...thanks for hanging in there with this blog and this mission - it matters.