Nuturing a generous heart in children a goal for many Edmonton parents
EDMONTON -- It can be challenging to instil a generous spirit in children raised in a society that focuses a great deal of attention on material wealth. Television ads with alluring toys infiltrate even kids’ quiet moments, and the retail world dominates our public spaces.
Of course, it’s wonderful that Canada has so many fortunate children whose needs are fulfilled. As a result, Canadian families might easily adopt a distorted view of happiness, forgetting that others are in dire need.
For a child to think about another family living a parallel, yet shockingly different life in Africa or Nepal or South America — or right here in Edmonton — can be a difficult stretch. But the truth is that some children walk miles for water or face imminent death due to violence.
How, as parents, friends, and teachers, do we nurture a sense of generosity in children and show them that community goes beyond national borders?
Several Edmonton families are working to do just that, and the benefits are touching and practical.Well of generosityParents Jenny and Kevin Drake heard about a campaign from a friend called Charity: Water in 2009. The grassroots movement installs wells in communities where water is dirty and/or scarce.
The couple couldn’t have guessed how a moment in front of their computer with their sons, then aged five and almost three, would impact their lives.
“We had the boys watch the Charity: Water video and it was our son Will’s reaction that got us. He couldn’t understand how people didn’t have clean water, or had to have dirty water to bathe in,” says Jenny.
The online campaign was something the family could do from home. After researching the charity and being impressed by its transparent results, they began.
“We liked that you could see your donation translated into a GPS co-ordinate of an actual well. It made it tangible for the boys and we thought they’d really learn from it.”
They chatted about how to launch their online campaign, and Will suggested a bottle drive. Together, they emailed family and friends and were immediately overwhelmed at the response. Between bottles, a matching promise and a cash donation, they had nearly achieved their total goal of $5,000. Then they began an online auction.
The spirit of generosity was palpable in their home, says Jenny.
“When we got our first $100 donation, I remember Will dancing in the kitchen — that meant that five people would have clean water. I could see it connect in Will, that the money translated into clean water.”
Jack, who was not yet three, wanted to help, too. So he collected pennies and rolled them. “We called it Jack’s change for change.”
“It just snowballed, and when the campaign was over we’d raised over $15,000. We knew we do it again.”
That intention manifested into a project last summer for Husa, the Human Sympathy Association, a Canadian charity in Tanzania, Africa. The Drakes learned that this organization was taking care of 50 children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
“A woman named Sarah Pollock from Devon was working with Husa to build a centre to house the children. Walls had been built, but they couldn’t put the roof on the building or afford beds, etc. Jack was older and understood the concept that children were living without a roof over their heads.”
I asked Jenny how she broached such a heavy topic as being an orphan with her boys.
“Kevin and I talked a lot about not scaring them — we didn’t want to scare them into giving. We wanted it to grow in their hearts organically. We teach them that we are all the same. We all need clean water, good food, a safe place to live, and education. But some people don’t have those things. I think they’ve learned gratitude, and that we can be generous.”
Both boys were keen to help, and through similar means they made approximately $6,000 in 30 days.
Again, it was a tangible lesson. Pollock emailed photos of the building’s construction, and the boys saw just what their hard work had accomplished.Ben’s bottle driveAs a writer, I’m impressed with stories of remarkable philanthropy, and I’ve worked hard to instil this spirit in my own children, too. When I was in Nepal several years ago working on a book, I visited Shree Mangal Dvip Boarding School. I saw destitute children — with brittle, orange hair and tiny, malnourished frames — from the forgotten borderland region of the Himalayas being educated, housed, fed and clothed.
Nepal is one of the poorest and hungriest countries in the world, having endured a brutal, 10-year civil war. Despite their hardships, some of these students achieve the country’s highest marks and get international scholarships. Graduates return to their remote villages, which are often a six-day walk, armed with education to improve the lives of their communities.
When I returned from my travels, I showed my son Ben, then age six, the school’s website and told him how life was different for these kids. He wanted to help. So we began to sponsor a boy named Phurbu Tenphel.
Last summer Phurbu’s dad perished in the mountains; his mom was unable to pay rent, and the family was in jeopardy. So during summer holidays, Ben and I emailed friends and family, requesting their bottles. I then chauffeured Ben to the bottle depot. He didn’t like the smell there, but each time he saw the numbers on the cash register, his eyes lit up and he’d have me calculate how far the money would go once converted into Nepali rupees.
Ben ultimately sent $1,146.12 to Phurbu’s mom so she could start a weaving business to support her family. Now Ben has a Nepali brother and a sense that the world is a complicated, big, but hopeful place.Family projectsNancy Critchley, communications director for the United Way, Alberta capital region, shares a story about an Edmonton family to show how parents can instil a sense of social responsibility in their children.
Bob and Sheryl Bowhay, parents of two young children, Hailey and Conner, have been United Way sponsors since 1992. In a statement made for the organizations’s promotional material, they said: “We think the best way to pass on family values to our children is by doing. We want our kids to observe us living our beliefs. United Way allows us to get involved and participate as a family — and that’s important to us.”
The Bowhays have taught nine-year-old Hailey how to embody these values in her everyday life.
“Hailey gets involved with charity challenges at her school — she realizes that it’s really better to give,” Critchley observes. “The Bowhays are working hard to raise children who do not expect things — who realize that they have to save, cherish what they have, and also give.”
Critchley interviewed Hailey for the 2010 Leaders of the Way Roster: “ ‘Two, plus two, plus two: Two for my purse, two for my savings and two for the Ladybug.’ The Ladybug? ‘That’s where I save money for people who need it — people who don’t have enough.’ ”
Critchley’s own three children developed a philanthropic spirit by watching their mom’s efforts with the United Way as they grew up. Of their own volition, they volunteered for years at The Great Human Race, ultimately bringing friends and participating in the run themselves to raise money for the United Way.
“All my children have sense of giving,” she says.
Check out these online resources for ideas on fostering goodwill in your kids:
United Way: myunitedway.ca
Charity: Water: charitywater.org/whywater
Shree Mangal Dvip: himalayanchildren.org
In : Canada news