Open Your Child's Eyes to Poverty- 5 Ways You Can Get Started

I'm raising three white children in a middle class home in a suburb of Seattle, WA. We live in a gated neighborhood where there is nary a sign of any real want. Sure, we see tents along the highway in the city where homeless camps have been set up and we pass by, make eye contact and smile at those men and women holding signs at the intersection, but how do we really help our kids grasp the reality of poverty when we are so far removed from it.
Several years ago, I read a quote by Shane Claiborne, in his book Irresistible Revolution that says "the problem is not that American Christians do not care about the poor. The problem is that American Christians do not know the poor"
How true is this! We care when we know. When we hear about true need and crisis, American people are quick to step up and help when they can. But how do we get to know the poor and the needs of those in poverty?
Poverty in America looks very different than poverty in developing and third world countries. My hope is that our children will have a larger world view that includes people to the ends of the earth. So how do we open our children's eyes to poverty? I'm sharing five ways today that I hope will help you know where to start.
parenting, world vision, africa, uganda, homelessness, poor

I've been fortunate enough to have traveled to several developing nations like Uganda and Zambia with World Vision and have seen the work being done in communities that are dealing with extreme poverty {those living on less than $1.25 a day}. When I've come home, I've shared stories of the people that I have met and my children have heard from me how different their lives are from those children on the other side of the world. 
But it doesn't take traveling out of the country to have a conversation with your children about poverty, nor does it take leaving the country to see poverty either. Here are 5 ways that you can get started opening your child's eyes to poverty, not just locally, but globally as well.

Be Prepared

Kids ask questions all the time. Sometimes those questions come when you are least prepared to give an answer. When my kids were much younger, I was approached by a homeless man outside of the store asking me for a few dollars. I smiled at the man as I juggled bags of groceries and kids in my arms and responded that I don't carry cash. When my kids and I got in the car they asked why I lied to the man. 
Be prepared for a response. If we tell our kids to help those in need, but when someone in need asks for help and you don't help them, what explanation are you going to give to them. I could have been taken off guard and launched into a whole explanation about bad choices and addiction {which isn't always the case} but instead I told them that we don't give money directly to someone on the street, but that we do give money and our time to community programs that can help those in need. 

Talk About It

Don't be afraid to have a discussion about poverty. None of us has all of the answers, if we did, there wouldn't be poverty. The goal of talking about poverty is to encourage empathy. Express how it makes you feel sad that those people living in a tent don't have a warm bed to sleep in at night. Talk about how happy you are that your children have a doctor to go to when they are sick and that they have clean water to drink and that not all children have those things.

Do Something for Someone Else

Last year, I wrote Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Volunteer as a Family and Where to Start. It's always been very important for us to serve together as a family. Your kids may have their own ideas of how they want to help. Be open to listening to those ideas. Maybe they want to donate some of their unused toys to a homeless shelter or while they are school supply shopping they want to buy supplies for a child at their school who might not otherwise have any. 
Maybe you want to put together blessing bags as a family so that when you see a homeless man or woman on the side of the road, you have something to give to them. A blessing bag is a Ziploc bag and can include non perishable food items like granola bars and water bottles as well as personal care items like a toothbrush and shampoo. Or you might want to spend an afternoon as a family at a food bank sorting items or make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that you can distribute to the homeless nearby. 

Experience It

Turn off your water for the day and see how difficult it is to not have a home with running water. Take a walk with buckets to your local water source {it could be a drainage pond or a puddle nearby} and walk home with the water. Eat a simple meal of beans and rice or even consider skipping a meal {elementary age kids can skip breakfast} to see what it really feels like to be hungry. Consider getting your older kids involved in the 30 hour famine. Spending some time experiencing the effects of poverty can help open your kids heart and mind to a new understanding of the poor. 

Our sponsored child Moses at his home in Uganda

Sponsor a Child 

One of the greatest things we have done as a family is to sponsor a child through World Vision. We started sponsoring Moses more than 5 years ago and we now sponsor a young girl named Sheila as well. World Vision has children available for sponsorship in nearly 100 countries. 
When we started sponsoring Moses we got a packet of information about him and his family and the area that he lives in. There was also information and even videos of our sponsored children on the website that we could watch. We write to our sponsored children and they write back to us. We love to receive pictures and letters and hear how their life is improving because of our monthly donation of $35. It's been a great way for our children to think about someone their age that is growing up in very different circumstances. You can find out more about child sponsorship here.
We have also found these books helpful to share with our children as they have gotten older and also to educate ourselves.  
Under the Overpass is a book about two guys who decided to break free from their middle class lifestyles and see what it was really like to live on the streets for five months. It was an eye opening view for how we respond to those men and women that we see on the streets.
Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore 
A story of two men from two very different backgrounds forming an unlikely friendship.
Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
This was a great book sharing how to live on mission right where you are.
The Hole in Our Gospel by Rich Sterns
The message in this book challenged me to live differently and opened my eyes to change my world view.
We enjoyed watching this documentary on Netflix as well.

Living on $1 a Day Follow the journey of three guys living on $1 a day in rural Guatemala. 
And finally, I have another great resource for you and your family. 

What if summer wasn’t a break from school, but an opportunity to change the world? Check out World Vision's PLAY-It-Forward Challenges: 10 fun family games that help your kids learn how to pay it forward this summer—with stories of real families who've made a difference! 

I would love to hear about some of the ways that your family helps to open your child's eyes to poverty in your backyard and around the world. 
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3 comments

Jeanne Washburn said...

Rachel - A very thoughtful post. Sadly, it doesn't take traveling out of the country to find poverty. We find it here in our schools, classrooms and community. The local food bank and homeless center are good beginnings to teaching the lesson - we all need to help each other...even just a little. Thanks.

J Bigler said...

This is a great post. My Husband and I grew up in poverty, having to go hungry sometimes. Now living a middle class life our children need for nothing. My Husband and I often talk about how we can make sure our children see what it is like to have to go without basic needs so they can have empathy towards others. We will be using some of your tips!

Jenn, hellorigby.com said...

Such great tips that can be applied to adults as well. You're totally right - it's easy to smile at those waiting at the intersections or even make a donation but it's a lot harder to try to go without and understand what they're going through. Love your new blog layout by the way, it looks beautiful!

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