Even though we live in a developing country, our life is pretty much a totally "expat bubble," where we mostly interact with other expats, our children live very comfortably and very rarely interact with this country's poverty/reality at all. Of course we want to protect them from seeing "too much" at their ages, but wherever we will live in the world - be it Kenya, Tanzania, Denmark, America or somewhere else! - there are people who have much less than we do and whose basic needs are not met. Granted there are different kinds of poverty in these places, but I believe it is important that our kids start to learn about this reality, even if in a relatively protected way. We have so much to be grateful for, but sometimes it takes seeing what others do not have to help you feel grateful for what you do have.
So my idea for the Christmas season was to take Grace and Noah to visit a Tanzanian orphanage. One of their teachers is involved in a small orphanage here and agreed to take us there. During the past week, I've had the kids going through their playroom and bedrooms to find toys that they don't play with very much (or in some cases toys that are duplicates of other toys!). We felt strongly that they had to pick the toys themselves and agree (ok, I suggested some things to give away but they did not accept all of my suggestions and Kristoffer reminded me that that was OK!) or else when we got to the orphanage there might be conflict. So it was two shopping bags of toys and puzzles in good condition that we brought, along with some clothes that the kids have outgrown. We talked to them a lot about giving things away before we get new presents for Christmas, about what they might see or experience at the orphanage, and why these children don't have mothers and fathers and toys.
There is only so much prep we could do though, and then we just had to hope for the best! Yesterday was a holiday here so Kristoffer didn't have to work, and off we went for our visit. My expectations of the orphanage were pretty different than reality. The house had just been renovated in a way so that it was painted nicely and didn't smell bad or have a lot of trash around it, even though it was in a slum about 30 minutes from our house. This was much different from the orphanage we used to visit in Nairobi, which was really dirty. There were 25 children living in this house, but many of them had gone on some kind of trip for the day with the head Mama of the house. So it was a small group receiving our gifts and it was probably much easier for us than if all children had been there. (We learned that there used to be 65 kids in that tiny house, but that a Norwegian man donated a house to the others moved to live in that donated house.)
We spent one hour with them, trying to teach the children (some 14 year old girls, boys, and then some younger kids...but most of the small children were not there) how to play with the toys. It was interesting because they don't speak English and we don't speak Kiswahili (well, Kristoffer does...but not the me, Grace or Noah), so we were using the toys to communicate. Some of the children were definitely trying to hoard the toys - that is pretty understandable - and they were not really used to saying thank you, but that was also OK. We also left some more toys from a friend of mine so that when the Mama returned she could distribute them to the children we didn't see.
Grace and Noah were shy and awkward when we were there, but not unfriendly or rude. Grace said to me more than once, "I think we made them happy." She could see that in their small house there were not any other toys. So while it is a big life lesson that we need to reinforce repeatedly throughout the future - I do feel this was a good introduction at an appropriate time of year to teach the children about giving to those less fortunate than we are. They will not miss those toys (even though they were really nice ones!) because they have so many others, and they did not begrudge the other children because they could see how little they already had.
This was a parenting win, as far as I am concerned, and I am interested to see how much (if at all) they process the experience in the coming days or weeks. I hope it made Grace and Noah feel good on some level...it certainly made ME feel good. Here are a few (iPhone) pictures - all of the kids there wanted to use the camera or have their picture taken...even if the quality is not great.
Grace and Noah learn at school that sharing is caring, and that was definitely true today!