One of the greatest benefits of serving others is the perspective you obtain about your own place in the world. More and more, grandparents are enabling their grandchildren to travel with them to serve in developing communities to understand how we’re all connected, but live very different lives. In this snapshot, Kathryn and Chris shared with their teammates how reflecting upon their own lifestyles helps them understand those they worked with in Tanzania.
By Kathryn Kuehnle, Clinical Child Psychologist
Most parents want their children to be happy and successful throughout their lives. Unfortunately, the mainstream culture in western society has defined happiness and success by the amount of material goods an individual possesses, or is capable of purchasing. Parents’ buy the latest video games, I-Pods, and cell phones to create happiness for their children. Families take vacations and buy family passes to theme parks to be happy. Successful movie and rock stars show our children the glamour of hedonism by indulging in designer clothing, alcohol and drugs. While these material possessions and experiences may create temporary or artificial happiness, solely teaching our children to be self indulgent is not the answer to developing our children into successful and honorable leaders.
Although I am only one person, there are steps that I can take to make the world a better place, one footprint at a time. I can teach my grandchildren to appreciate the gift of being born in the United States with parents who can provide them the luxury of plentiful food, clothing and education. I can teach them that most children in the world live in families struggling to find enough to eat and clean water to drink. I can bring them to meet those who are poor, disabled, and sick so they will know the real identities of the less fortunate children whose faces they see in photographs, and I can develop my grandchildren’s compassion so that throughout their lives they will reach out to those who need them. Global Volunteers has provided one avenue for me to accomplish these goals.
By Chris Evans, high school senior and volunteer
Starting when I was 12 years old, my grandmother and I developed a tradition of giving presents to homeless children for Christmas. Each year, we gather a Christmas wish list from the children living in one of our community’s homeless shelters. We purchase the items and then take the presents to the shelter before Christmas Eve. I find our tradition very rewarding because my grandmother and I are sharing something special, and I know that the children in this particular homeless shelter will wake up to find presents under their Christmas tree. When we started this tradition, I didn’t actually comprehend the plight of the children because I had never experienced these children as unwashed and sleeping in cardboard boxes or living in their cars. The shelter we visited had clean rooms, beds, running water, and electricity. I didn’t think about what their life would be like if the shelter did not exist.
My understanding of homelessness and the plight of the poor changed when I started feeding breakfast to the homeless in my community. It was through this experience that I saw the living conditions of the almost “invisible” portion of our society. Sleeping under bridges or in parks, with no access to facilities to clean their bodies or their clothes, they were often unkempt and dirty. Without adequate food and medical attention, these people suffered from a range of untreated physical and mental illnesses. I found the experience of getting to know this group of people even more rewarding than giving Christmas presents to homeless children. I found myself looking for more opportunities to volunteer.
Three years ago my grandmother and I started volunteering through Global Volunteers. Since I have been 14 years old, we have spent our summers in foreign countries helping people who live in impoverished communities. In Ecuador, we taught and played with physically and mentally handicapped children and adults. In Australia, we helped an Aborigine community establish a tourist industry for their artifacts. In Africa, I worked at the village medical clinic, and when I returned home I began the task of raising money for medical supplies for the clinic.
During my volunteer work, I have seen children whose only meal is served at their school, which means they feel hunger every day. I have seen a 5-year old girl die because there was no money to buy the medicine to treat her and no transportation to take her to a hospital. I have met people who are mentally ill and living in cardboard boxes under freeways in the greatest country in the world. I have learned that the basic necessities that I take for granted may be rare luxuries for the poor.
All too often in our society we are encouraged to place value in consumerism and material worth. We find ourselves taking things for granted and develop a false sense of entitlement. We tend to ignore the portion of our society who is poor. We also blame the poor for their fate, and egotistically assume that we, the fortunate, have done something to earn our privileged placement on this earth. My grandmother has taught me the joy of giving to others. My volunteer work has raised my awareness of global economic and living conditions, and helped put a name and face to those individuals who struggle to survive.