When I first arrived in South Africa, I initially worked in a large children’s afterschool program called Kids Explosion. Every Friday afternoon, the rest of the staff and I would feed and teach the Bible to about 500 children from ages 5 to 16. I remember standing in front of the room, boys at my right-hand and girls at my left, quizzing them on everything from memory scriptures to Bible stories. As a reward, I had a bag of lollipops to give to those blessed enough to answer my questions correctly. Sadly, I did not give away many lollipops. I never really thought much about it. Then, one afternoon, I hung around outside and saw one little boy place his well-earned lollipop on the ground, crush it, and give out all of the tiny pieces to at least 15 children hovering around him.
I was floored. I knew how hard it was for him to earn that lollipop, and to give out the pieces showed a kindness and generosity of spirit that I rarely see in Americans even today. I think about that scene often, and I ask myself am I giving away my most prized possessions to those around me? Am I thinking more of myself and my own needs or the needs of others? Then, I wonder if you can “teach” that type of attitude? I see it over and over again in this impoverished community. I have seen children wear shoes on alternating days so that they can share them with others who don’t have any. I’ve purchased clothes for one child only to see parts of that outfit (shirt, pants, socks, coat, shoes) on four different children. I want to be frustrated, but inside, I just smile.
In America, I am challenged convincing a child to deny themselves any form of pleasure to give to someone else in obvious need. Sometimes, even adults choke on the words, “thank you”, and recently, even common politeness is done away with because of differing opinions. We as a society are not only selfish with our resources; we are becoming mean-spirited with our words. Somehow, it is easier for us to eviscerate others than to love them. Yet, ironically, in a community rife with a variety of issues large and small, they express graciousness and generosity. Somehow, they have figured out how to see each other and desire to help each other in the spirit of true community. These lessons are not just willed into being when they become adults; they are nurtured and practiced while they’re children. In America, we have every resource, but struggle to teach and train our children not be entitled and self-consumed. We are not sure how to train our children to see others in the face of their own needs. I know that I have many lessons that I want to teach the people and children of South Africa, but this is one lesson that I would love for them to teach us.