One of the biggest parenting questions we struggle with is developing our son’s character. We want him to be a person of integrity and honesty, compassion and empathy, kindness and strength. Sure, we can teach him to read, to count, to ride a bike. But how do we teach him to be sympathetic to the plight of a stranger? How do we teach him to recognize that other children have less?
I have worked in various non-profit organizations since 2009, and collaborated with many more, on various projects. I am fully aware that there is a plethora of problems plaguing society, on multiple levels, and sometimes the sheer enormity of the issues can be overwhelming.
My work in Doctors Without Borders really opened my eyes to the devastating lack of access to health care in many places all over the world. Most recently, I learned about the dire health situation in Tondo, an urban poor community in Manila. Like many others, I had always known it was a place with far too many people, few jobs, and very low incomes. But only recently did it dawn on me how very densely populated this community was, and how their deplorable living conditions made it much easier for various diseases to persist.
I was sobbing, one night after work, thinking about our comfortable home, how hard we tried to take care of our families, and how so many things that we viewed as necessities would be considered luxuries for a family in Tondo. I sobbed to think of all the infants born in poverty, who could not get vaccinated or get the nutrition they needed. I sobbed to think of the teenage moms and the children forced to work.
Lucas was in the bathtub, and he could hear me crying. Several times he called to me, and Oneal told him I was resting. When I recovered sufficiently, I went to the bathroom and sat down to talk to him.
I told him how we tried to take care of him, to give him nice food so he would be healthy and strong, to make sure he goes to school so he can be smart. I told him how many other kids weren’t so lucky, that they lived in houses that were only as big as our bathroom. I told him other kids didn’t have nice food or toys, and other kids didn’t get vaccines or books, and they couldn’t go to school. They didn’t have a phone or a laptop where they could watch YouTube or play games. If they got sick, it was very hard for their parents to buy them medicine or bring them to the hospital.
He seemed quite shocked that life was like that for other children. After splashing in the tub for a few minutes, he said, “Maybe they can be our friend? Maybe we can call them?”
I started crying harder. I went to Oneal and said, “Maybe we’re doing something right?”
I can only hope he can keep that kindness and generosity in his heart, until he grows into adulthood. I don’t expect or hope that he ends up doing development or humanitarian work, as I have done; I know it’s not for everyone. But I hope he always has space in his heart to be kind to others, especially those who have less than he does. I hope, in his own way, he finds it in his heart to help.