The PBS Frontline Documentary that tries to answer: What Does Poverty Mean to Children? and a photo essay entitled: When a Kid's Bedroom Isn't a Room.
I saw the documentary right before Thanksgiving and I sat on my comfy couch - with my big television and my laptop and everything else that I see every single day and the guilt washed over me and I just cried. I went on Facebook and I vented but that doesn't seem enough.
I worked in a shelter for battered women and children for a number of years. I remember they came to the shelter with the clothes on their backs and maybe a backpack. People asked me over and over how I could work in such a depressing environment. The answer always was that there was joy in that house. A sense of hope and a sense of unity that I have yet to find anywhere else. Do not get me wrong - it was stressful and it was frustrating and it was hard. The hardest part for me was leaving my job at the door of the shelter when I went home. But I thought that was my calling - to help others as others had helped me. But I got burnt out ... always with the system, never with the women.
I think this was a good experience for my older son because he would come to the shelter with me and help sort through donations. He would come with me to events and things - he got to see children who were happy with what they had - and they did not have much.
Now I teach a class on social change to college students. I try to teach them that there is a connection between everything in the world (specifically for this course there is a connection between the government (public) sector, the business (private) sector and society (nonprofit) sector). I try to teach business students about corporate social responsibility - about giving back for all that they receive.
I try to teach social entrepreneurship - let students know that making a difference and making a profit do not need to be mutually exclusive. So maybe this is my way to give back ... I don't know.
But what I can do is make sure that when my children ask for new phones and iPods and video games and action figures they understand that there are children who don't have toys. When the six-year-old complains that there is not enough food he likes in the house I can remind him that there are children who have no food. When they get frustrated that we don't have the money to do all that we want to do or get them all that we want to get them I can remind them of the 10-year-old girl in the documentary collecting cans so her family can have money for food - while they are living in one motel room with no refrigerator.
The world we live in is so insane! The distribution of wealth sometimes makes no sense to me. We work and work really hard to succeed in our own version of the American dream - and then realize that we are really one tragedy away of raising our children in a shelter. It is scary. And what we really want to do is hide from it - because in it we see ourselves.
So pay it forward - one good deed at a time - small bites.
- Teach the lesson at home that you can't judge a book by its cover.
- Teach the lesson at home that being grateful fills you more than material things.
- Teach the lesson at home that bringing a smile to a stranger's face counts.
- Teach the lesson at home that living a comfortable life as opposed to an affluent life is not a failure.
- Teach the lesson at home that there is always someone who has it worse than we do.
It is only when we start looking out for each other and stop looking out for number one that this world will be a better place for all children to live in. Maybe that sounds socialist - but that isn't exactly what I am trying to say. If you work hard you should do well - and you should be proud of doing well. But do not forget that there is someone out there working equally as hard - who may not have had the privileges or opportunities you had, but never-the-less needs to feed their family. Maybe they clean your office, or pick up your trash or wake up at 4:00 am so you can get coffee on your way to work. Those families should not be valued any less than the people who sit in a corner office making the decisions that will impact the lives of people they will never meet.