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January 03, 2012

Is There a Right Age to Show Your Children Poverty?

I just opened an email with a subject line of "hola."  It said:

We wish you happy new year love of Christ in the health of my family and we hope soon to Nicaragua...

Girl at school

A few weeks ago, I was invited to fly down to Nicaragua to visit a school some friends' charity has supported for the past five years.  I signed up to see some volcanoes and maybe do some surfing.  Instead, I tied hundreds of bead bracelets around little brown arms and tripped over myself while trying to play soccer.  Mostly, though, I tried to figure out how children living in structures smaller than my garage could be so damned happy.


I also tried to figure out why one of the founders of the charity, Brent, brought his two daughters, ages two and three. When I saw them at the airport in Atlanta, I thought Brent was crazy.  By the time we flew home, I thought he was wise. 


If you live in America at the median income level of just under $50,000/year, you're in the top 1% of the world in terms of income.  Even a four-person family that's "poor" in the United States making $20,000/year is in the top 10% of the world.  But bloggers are way above median levels, which means most of our kids will potentially be spoiled, or if we're not careful, entitled.

How do you curb that effect?

I think they need to see how people in other parts of the world live. 

I'm planning to return to the little school in the mountains of Nicaragua in May 2012 to assist with construction of an additional building, and I've invited my wife and our 16-year-old to come.  But what about the five, three, and one-year-old? 

The child with whom I spent the most time is five.  I'd love for my five-year-old to meet little Jeremy and his family.  However, I want relationships to develop, not for this to be a "let's go somewhere to look at people who are different from us--like at the zoo!" trip.


One reason we haven't gone to Disneyworld is that I'd prefer to do it one time, and for that one time to take place when all the children are old enough to appreciate and remember the experience.  Is charitable travel to economically depressed areas of the world analogous?

I used to think it was, but now I think Brent's right.  Exposing our children to a less affluent part of the world at early ages, so that they grow up knowing not everyone looks like they do and has all the opportunities they do, is better.  Especially if the location is one where a few people can make a difference and improve the lives of the locals while developing relationships with them.  And, I want them to embrace studying other languages.

The email at the beginning of this post is from Jeremy's father, Rafael.  I handed him a business card after I finished the cup of coffee his wife gave me in their den, in case he were to get access to a computer any time soon and wish to stay in touch.  I told him I hope my niños can one day come play with his niños.  But will they?  If so, at what ages? 



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