I posted during the summer about my friend Joel’s trip to Nairobi with his family to do some work with Made in the Streets, a school for street and abandoned children. Joel made a presentation to us at lunch this week to talk about their experience and the work that they did. His wife and one of his children, his 10-year old son, Benjamin, joined us.
After Joel’s talk, I asked Benjamin what he felt was the most important thing he learned from his experience this summer. He thought for only a minute and said that he thinks the most important lesson is how people in America use or misuse what we have here. When I asked what he meant, he talked about how we deal with food. He observed that people in this country often sit down to a meal and, not being completely full after their first serving, get seconds. But, he said, he noticed that people often take too much “seconds,” and then think nothing about tossing away what they have no room to eat. Benjamin said that he saw so many children in the areas in which they travelled who often go a whole day without any food at all, that it seemed very horrible to him to be so wasteful.
As I told Benjamin, I had a very similar reaction after returning to the United States after living in Nepal, India and Thailand (and especially after visiting Sri Lanka, where intentionally maiming children to make them more effective beggars is not uncommon). When one becomes painfully aware of how many people in the world never have enough food to fill their bellies, it is very hard to watch how much food is wasted in this country. I told him I have the same reaction to water, after having lived in places where water is so scarce. That is also something Benjamin could easily identify with: One of the things he and his family saw this summer was how far children often have to walk to get water and how many people do not have access to clean drinking water.
I’m happy for my young friend Benjamin that he got a chance to experience what life is like for so many people in other parts of the world. Hopefully his sharing of his experiences will help others here to realize how blessed we are and encourage us to be more appreciative of the bounty that is ours.
Coincidentally, the evening of the day on which I spoke to Benjamin was Curriculum Night at my daughter’s high school. I was struck by the fact that in many of my daughter’s courses, there are two identical textbooks for each student – one for use at home and a second for use at school, so that the students don’t have to have the inconvenience of carrying the heavy books back and forth. In many poor communities, students either have no texts or are using incredibly outdated texts. I’m wondering how many of Elena’s classmates have any idea of the luxury they experience in having multiples copies of their texts. I’m guessing this is not something to which most of them give the slightest thought.