When the lady at the Post Office looked at me a bit funny, it was probably fair enough. I’d just told her I was sending Christmas presents to my five children.
Her: “Erm, I wouldn’t have thought your womb was developed enough for that kind of action yet, love.”
Me: “It’s OK, I get it all the time. Half a look at me and a liquor shop owner instantly thinks I’ve walked out of primary school, so I understand that you doubt my ability to manage a brood that’s old enough to have left home already.”
As my youthfulness plainly revealed, I didn’t bring those children into the world myself. The truth was, I bought them. And they were totally OK with it.
Eight-year-old Anita lives in a region called Tubehoneza, in Rwanda. She loves to dance, she gets good grades at school, and when she grows up she wants to join the police. Husband and I discovered earlier in the year that his sponsor kid whom he signed up long before we got together lives in the same village. The latest additions to our family are Moris, a super-cute six-year-old with a pot belly, a love of soccer and dirty feet, and Lahimu, whom Husband fell in love with because of the bad-ass suit he was wearing, plus the fact that there are seven kids in his family so they probably need all the help they can get.
A few months back, we trotted along to a Tear Fund seminar. The guest speaker was a dude who used to be a sponsor kid himself. He told us about his family’s fall from grace (dad killed, family kicked out of home, family forced to live in Uganda’s biggest slum, seven people forced to squeeze into a crappy shack not much bigger than your average bathroom). He told us the average age of death in that area was in the mid-20s. He told us about his family’s discovery of this organisation called Tear Fund which was committed to helping families like his. He told us about Tear Fund coming over to his house to take one of those “classic sponsor kid photos” – you know the ones, where they stand at attention and don’t dare smile just in case they look more well-off than they actually are (his words, not mine) – then the long wait until some kind Westerner took pity on him and signed up to sponsor him.
Then he told us about the euphoria of being chosen, the dancing and general celebratory carry-on that ensued when he and his family were given the gift of monthly financial supplements for food, health and education. His sponsor was a 14-year-old girl from Britain who took on extra babysitting every month to pay for him. Tear Fund gave him an ID number that he immediately imprinted in his memory. This was his lifeline. If he got sick, he just had to run to the hospital and spout off his number, and the doctors would give him the treatment he needed. He was also given a lifeline to take home to his family: a mosquito net. The family could now cuddle together at night with one less care in the world – the fear of malaria settling on them in the darkness.
Five sponsor kids is a bit of a financial burden sometimes, particularly when I really want to buy a new dress. But the heart of this Ugandan man who started out so low, then got sponsored by a barely-teen hero on the other side of the world, then made it through high school and onto university and came out with an accounting degree, and now lives in the same slum (out of choice, this time) so he can help younger versions of himself do the kinds of things he’s done from nothing, was enough to encourage me to sacrifice something in my ridiculously comparatively abundant life.
We live incredible lives over here in little ol’ Nu Zulund. We’ve got jobs, and if we don’t we probably have a bit of government or familial support coming in instead. We don’t live in fear of our dads being forcibly taken away to war. We can be homosexual/Christian/feminist/ginger and not be thrown into prison for it. Trucks come every week to take away our rubbish; the majority of us don’t need to desperately hunt through it in the hope of finding food or clothing or anything remotely sell-worthy.
Let’s live a life more charitable this year. Even if you don’t sponsor a brood of strangers’ children, start thinking about how much you have – and how much extra you probably don’t need as much as you think you do. Because a life less selfish is a life more happy. When we point our attention to others’ lack, we become aware of just how good we have it. Even if we can’t afford that sexy dress this week.
Image courtesy of FMSC