Monday, November 19, 2018

World Children's Day

There can be no keener revelation of a nation's soul than the way it treats its children. --Nelson Mandela

I said to the audience that perhaps the world’s troubles could be solved if we could turn over the leadership of nations to the children for a few days. Through love, they would find solutions to the misunderstandings, mistrust, and misconduct of adults in the world. 
                                                       --M. Russell Ballard

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.           --Mother Teresa


I love this picture of my husband, a perinatologist, who has delivered over 20,000 babies. His professional life has been defined by helping to safely bring children to their families.

Sometimes it is astonishing to think that all of us adults once were children. We too were small and dependent on "the big people" to take care of our needs--to affirm who we were becoming. November 20 is World Children's Day--a day to remember that ALL children have the right to be heard--no matter how faint the voice and where it comes from. Each and every child deserves health, safety, and education. In my daily life and travel, I am most touched by the children I see, some so very helpless. There are those who have an over abundance to eat or use what they are given. Others have a life of abuse and neglect--never being allowed to reach their God-given potential. William Carlos Williams, the doctor and poet said, "Catch an eyeful, catch an earful, and don't drop what you've caught." Every day we hear and see such stories, but what do we do with them? What are we teaching the children we know in our earshot?

For many years, I have enjoyed reading Dr. Robert Coles' work, a Harvard child psychiatrist who spent decades of his life all over the world interviewing children in places of upheaval and struggle. Often times he would have them sketch their stories into artwork. His definition of stories broadens the usual definition:

"Storytelling, in the form of both personal narratives and the established literary tradition, gives us a fuller understanding of ourselves and the experience of others. "The whole point of stories is not 'solutions' or 'resolutions' but a broadening and even heightening of our struggles. They remind us of what is important in life, admonish us, point us in new directions, engage us in self-reflection, and sometimes inspire us to lead lives of moral integrity. The beauty of a story is in its openness--the way you or I can take it in, and use it for ourselves."

So what do we do with the stories we hear and see? For Coles, and for myself too (the reason I have liked his books for so many years) is that "there is a distinct connection between stories and voluntary service. Narratives are a means of glimpsing and comprehending the world, while service is a means of putting to use what has been learned." I have relearned this many times in my life. Once I saw or heard some stories, I could not reconcile or connect the inconsistencies in life until I entered others' worlds. Talking about theories or distancing myself from the story never worked for me. It was only in the doing, the teaching, or as Coles articulates, "Service is not a hierarchy but a reciprocity in which the distinctions between teacher and pupil, giver and receiver, helper and helped constantly dissolve."

I just returned from being in favelas in Brazil and seeing many miles of townships in South Africa. Poverty is not immune to me. I have seen it all my life--looking out, but never inside my circumstances. I have lived and worked in refugee camps, but I was not ever the one without the home. I have seen stories I cannot solve or fix--that have given me painful sorrow. Yet, I know that reaching into someone else's story connects us. Boundaries disappear and we can be one together.  I have known that bond. As Cole observes, "There is no teacher and pupil or giver and receiver or helper and helped." Both need one another.

I know with everyone trying to do "small things" it all adds up. But as in everything in life, we have to plan some balance into the equation. Another favorite writer, Neal Maxwell, had a quote on his desk by Anne Morrow Lindberg to remind him he could not do everything, "My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds." Two of some of my favorite quotes to remember when trying to connect the stories I see and the call to action. They are diametrically opposed, but each beg reflection in the world of reaching out to others.

Now go light the world.

#Loveachild #GiveHopeToChildren #LightTheWorld

Young boys at a Buddhist orphanage in Vietnam

One of my most joyful moments--dancing with children from Jordan.

In an Indian village with some schoolboys. They had never seen a foreigner and followed me around for about four days. 

Karolina, my Icelandic cousin, with her super athletic triplets--climbing a mountain at about midnight in June.


Being with some Indian kids on a field trip in Hyderabad

At a village school in India

Chinese kids learning English. 

Children at a Brazilian favela school

Qatari children in Doha learning the traditional sword dance

Children in Rio de Janiero, Brail practicing for a Primary program

Love Ivy's face as she and Elias work on a Halloween project together. 

Hanna, an artist we met in Monteque, South Africa, with Elias. She told me that in her troubled childhood, there was one place she felt safe: an art class with a very special teacher. Although she lived with some fear and anxiety in her home, art was where she flourished. And now she brings that same joy to children in a little mountain town in South Africa. I was inspired to meet her in her studio with colorful children's art all around her.

Children all dressed up for National Day in Qatar

In front of a slave museum in Cape Town, a reminder of children and slavery

Holding a brand new baby from the Philippines, just two days old. 

Elias learning how to play chess (You would be surprised how good he is now) from his master teacher.

A French boy on the street in Montague, France

Elias in the compound learning to play cricket with his Indian friends

Children in Lake Cuomo, Italy getting ready for a soccer match

Children in Budapest skating at a Christmas market

Children in Magdala, Spain last Christmas talking to the Three Wisemen

A young boy in Morocco using leaves as toys.

Elias, with Dick, a man who has taken an interest in helping my son, and hundreds of other youth. He has made a great difference to so many--one of my heroes.

My mom watching her granddaughter's artwork.

My mom dancing with one of her 54 grandkids.

At a wedding this summer with a new joy

A German family in our home, along with Aaron on the violin, participating in a musical soiree. I love the mother's joyful face as she encourages her children.

Michelle, making her own valentine.

My mom, who has taught me more than anybody else, about loving children. She is listening to Daniel from Ukraine read.

A picture taken a few years back, with three of "our triplets" who we have adopted as family. See if you can pick them out. One has glasses. 

Mariam al Rashdie, another hero, who began and directs the Ontario School for Disabilities here in Doha.

Love this picture of a teacher and Mathi. 

Love Miriam's face as she learns to bring color to the paper


Love these faces, our neighbors, along with Elias, who bring joy to my life every day.

As I like to say, these teachers and kids are my people--helping to bring joy to children with disabilities in Doha

My daughter, Sarah, in rural Ethiopia last spring, helping to bring education initiatives to children. Her joy was over brimming when she returned.