Monday, October 13, 2008

Thanks Giving

A couple of years ago my daughter’s Guide troop participated in something called a Shoebox program. The girls were asked to pack a shoebox (or reasonable facsimile) with a variety of basic necessities; inconsequential items that we take for granted. Common items including pens and pencils, crayons or markers, small writing pads, solar calculators, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, face cloths, hairbrushes and combs, socks, small bags of candy or gum, dolls, toy cars or stuffed animals, kazoos, yo-yos and skipping ropes. Once filled, the boxes were to be distributed overseas by various church groups and aid agencies to children living in desperate poverty.

In describing the program to the girls, the guide leader told the story of one boy in Africa who received his box and removed the lid. He stood gazing and the wonderful things that were packed inside for a very long time. Finally, the aid worker who had given it to him said, “It’s okay, take it.”

The boy stood there pondering his gift for a few moments more and then very carefully reached in and pulled out a pencil. With a grateful smile he gently put the lid back on the box and returned it to the worker. When the worker tried to hand the box back to the boy, he shook his head. He simply couldn’t understand that the entire box was all for him.

This story bears repeating at a time when we celebrate the bounty of the season. The idea that a single pencil could transform the life of a child is as much beyond our comprehension as the idea of the abundance of our daily lives would be to him. We have so very much that we are blinded by the bounty.

Another Shoebox recipient was a 10 year-old young Russian girl by the name of Tanya who was living in an orphanage. It was the very first gift she had ever received; the very first time that she felt that somebody actually cared about her.

Years later, after Tanya and her two siblings were adopted and living the U.S., she launched a shoebox program at her high school. Tanya ultimately had the opportunity travel to Ecuador to distribute shoeboxes.

In a recent interview with CNN, Tanya told the story of one little boy who opened his box and jumped for joy when he saw a pair of socks. He ran around, gleefully waving his socks in the air. As Tanya says, “If we got a pair of socks for a gift, most of us would be annoyed, but for this little boy it was the greatest present he could receive. Everything matters to those kids.”

This Thanksgiving, as we stuff ourselves with turkey in the comfort our own heated and comfortable homes, it’s important to not only give thanks for what we have (and so often don’t appreciate), but also to reach out for those whose lives are so vastly different from our own. We must remember that we are part of the privileged 20 percent of the world’s population that consumes a whopping 86 percent of the world’s resources.

This isn’t just about social and economic justice. It’s about environmental sustainability. If everyone on the planet wanted to consume resources at the rate that we do, we’d need an estimated 4.5 planets to meet everyone’s need (and greed).

When I was at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, I saw a slogan on a t-shirt that perhaps described it best of all. It said, “We need to live simply so that others may simply live.”

By doing more with less and sharing what we have, we not only ease the burden of the estimated 1.4 billion people living in the developing world who are barely existing on less than $ 1.25 US a day, but we also help relieve the pressure on our beleaguered planet.

Happy Thanksgiving.


For more on data on global poverty, visit the World Bank.

Remember to make a donation to your local food bank this holiday weekend. For a food bank near you or to make a cash donation, visit the Canadian Association of Food Banks.

Thankfully, shoebox programs are rapidly growing in popularity. While many churches have established programs, for a basic How-To Guide, visit the U.S. based and go to Operation Christmas Child.


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