This week, Big B and I were blessed to take part in an initiative by a friend and her daughter, who are traveling to Swaziland, Africa this weekend. As a country, Swaziland has a 40% HIV rate. 10% of the population are orphaned children. Their life expectancy is 32. The region that my friend is visiting has a 90% HIV rate. They are going there to bring them clothes, toys, and books...but mostly love.
We collected gently used items from three other families and spread them out on our dining room table. When all was said and done, we had amassed five huge garbage bags full of love to send across the ocean.
I must admit, I had an ulterior motive for taking part in this project. Of course the statistics I learned and the pictures I saw were plenty to compel me to do some small thing...but I also jumped at the chance to broaden Big B's global perspective. When I told him these children had no food, he asked, "Why don't they just go to Publix?" When I told him there were no grocery stores like he was used to, he asked, "Why don't they just go get the food that's free?"
I am grateful that Big B has never had to understand this struggle. But a personal connection with a lifestyle so different from his own can only expand his mind...and his heart. I showed him some of the photos of the children my friend visited last time she went, and it seemed to do the trick. He wrote them this letter, with his picture attached:
Dear kids in Swaziland,
We're sending toys to you. Maybe along with some clothes and books and art supplies. I hope you have Easter there, and I hope that you like to play with the toys. Have a happy summer and I hope you can write to me sometime.
Bye! ...and, from Big B's mama, this excerpt from a poem I read long ago:
The same hands that made the stars made you.
The same hands that made the canyons made you.
The same hands that made the trees and the moon and the sun made you.
That's why you are so special.
God made you.
He made you in a very special way.
He made your eyes so they would twinkle.
He made your mouth so you could smile.
He made your laugh so you could giggle.
God made you like no one else.
If you looked all over the world, there would be no one else like you.
No one with your eyes, no one with your mouth, no one with your laugh.
You are very, very special.
I am grateful for Big B's expanding mind. To continue the process, I've laid out this memory game, gifted to us by one of the moms that donated clothing, for us to play after school.
We keep a gratitude journal in our house. We say three good things that happened in our day at every family meal. Thankfulness is a concept that is driven home pretty hard around here. As parents, Papa and I are grateful for the amazing opportunities that surround our children simply as a result of their place of birth. As children who have never really wanted for anything, it is difficult to understand these concepts.
Now, Big B is beginning to make connections with children who don't have these opportunities, who are sick, hungry, and parentless, yet still exude joy and gratitude for the gifts they've been given. I hope that through this exchange of photographs and letters, and by giving clothes and toys and books that were once his, Big B will begin to feel gratitude in an entirely new way. I hope he begins to understand that regardless of the tremendous disparity in how children live all over the world, they are all connected. They need love just like Big B does. Their bodies work just like his does, and they like to play and laugh and explore just like he does.
I am so grateful to my friend and her daughter for traveling so far just to give these children some love and kindness. We wish them peace and strength of heart on their journey. They've given us quite a gift in the process.