As you are probably well aware, my focus is and always has been on kids, parenting, and families. Quite often – whether in the books I write or at my childcare center – this translates into helping parents better understand, educate, and guide children towards happier, healthier futures.
Today is no different. In fact, I was halfway done writing my Live Well Nebraska blog in honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month, a topic I truly believe should be hugely important for all parents – perhaps more so than many are even aware.
As is often the case when I’ve promised myself I’m not going to be distracted while writing, however, I’ve found myself distracted. As soon as I opened my web browser with what I swear was for work purposes only, I saw a top-of-the-page CNN video entitled Children of the Trash Dump. These kind of titles always lure me in, and I’ve never been able to keep from clicking on the links and watching the videos. When I do, it inevitably solidifies my desire to do more to improve the lives of children and their families. Today, my conviction was made stronger than ever.
You see, I’m fresh on the heels of a very powerful trip to S. Africa, during which I had the opportunity to tour the makeshift shantytown of Dunoon just outside of Cape Town, where I witnessed firsthand both the terrible poverty and incredible resilience of its women and children. I left there more determined than ever to do something. I imagine watching CNN’s story about the plight of Vietnamese children living on a trash dump and at great risk of falling prey to child trafficking may have nearly the same effect on some of you.
The question that often arises, however, is what can one really do to tackle such a huge problem or even make a dent in such desperate situations as poverty, child trafficking or illiteracy. In the case of S. Africa, I joined about fifteen other members of the Global Hygiene Council to see firsthand the incredible power of teaching basic handwashing. Sure, I talk about handwashing all the time, and yes – we teach the students at my childcare center this basic life skill on a daily basis. But calling it a “life skill” has a way of taking on a very different meaning when one is teaching handwashing in a community with little running water and barely able to scrape together the dollar per week it costs to buy one’s family a bar of soap.
The hopeful news in Dunoon is that the four-year handwashing study conducted in the face of both poverty and health illiteracy yielded very promising results – on the order of reducing diarrheal illness by 30-50 percent! Those results would be great even here in Omaha, where parents inevitably are plagued by diarrheal illness and fret over the accompanying need to keep their children from becoming dehydrated. Now consider the fact that diarrheal disease worldwide is one of the leading causes of death for children . That’s why I’m now dead serious about finding a way to donate to the Dunoon community as much soap as I can get my hands on (along with books and beads). If you’re interested in helping me make this happen, by all means let me know.
But back to the children in Vietnam. The “hope” part of the story promised in the video’s promo is based on one woman’s vision to set up a non-profit to fight trafficking in Vietnam. This small organization is currently educating 200 of these poorest-of-the poor girls in hopes of giving them a chance for a better future and a better likelihood of avoiding predatory child traffickers. The visionary founder interviewed in the segment not only refers to the hugely important focus on “saving” girls through education, but also touches on the importance of improving the community’s reported illiteracy level from it’s staggering 99+ percent.
Let me just say that I couldn’t be more touched, or more in agreement. I thoroughly agree that education and literacy is fundamentally important and the key to helping people out of poverty and lead more successful lives. I’ve also become increasingly convinced with the notion that the education and empowerment of girls is absolutely key to solving not only poverty, but quite honestly – a good many of the world’s problems.
If you don’t believe me, then maybe you’ll believe Oprah. Or Hillary or Bill Clinton. Or pretty much anyone who has ever read Nicholas Kristof’s powerful book Half the Sky. Those who read it are likely to be permanently changed in the way they view the importance of girls, ready to join this global movement, and all but insist that everyone needs to read this book.
And finally – I am a huge believer in the power of doing something over nothing. You may have heard the anecdote of the boy and the starfish. It goes like this: a man and a boy are walking on a beach littered with washed-up starfish. Boy picks up starfish and throws it back in the ocean. Man sees this and applies the all-too-common viewpoint when he tells the boy that there are far too many washed up starfish to possibly save them all. Boy responds, “Well, I made a huge difference to that one.” I love this story. I try to live by it. Clearly, so do the people whose far nobler efforts are recounted in Kristof’s book and CNN’s poignant video. The point is, every human being counts, and each and every one of us can do something to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
At Primrose, my teachers have t-shirts that state, “No matter how big or small, we all stand to make a difference in the world.” My husband and I were convinced to move to Omaha nine years ago in large part because we believe that here in Omaha, we are not alone in our belief that teaching even our youngest children to be involved in the community and help others is fundamental. And our Helping Hands curriculum isn’t just about the actual dollar amount the kids raise to donate, or about how many mittens, books or cans of food they collect “for kids who don’t have them” (although I’ll tell you that I couldn’t be more proud of the students for their selfless and impressive accomplishments). It’s that they’re learning the lifelong lesson that we really can make a difference if we all just take whatever opportunity we have to throw starfish back into the ocean.
With that said, I hope all of you will consider what you might do. Start big or start small. Think globally or act locally. Get your kids involved and I promise, the world will be a better place for it.
On that note, I’ll get back to writing about getting kids to brush their teeth. After all, teeth are really important too. And even pink princess toothbrushes can play a part in the grand scheme of oral health promotion.
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska