They say that charity begins at home, and in the light of the recent bush fires in Victoria, this is certainly true - we Aussies are a very charitable bunch! But should a momentous tragedy such as this, be what spurs us on to give and to help others? Sadly, for many people, this is what it takes.
I've been a supporter of World Vision for more than 20 years, and I want to share with you one of the most memorable experiences in my life to date. This isn't intended to be an advertisement for World Vision, but purely an example of how giving can change a person's life.
When my husband and I moved to London 14 years ago, we decided to go via Asia, and in particular, Thailand. My family had been sponsoring a little boy there for many years and we wanted to visit him. I made all the necessary arrangements through World Vision in Australia, and on our second day in Bangkok we made the journey. A World Vision representative picked us up from our hotel, and we travelled for 2 hours out of the city, through rice paddies and tiny villages, into the heart of Thailand.
We arrived first at Roongrat's school. I don't think many of these children had seen a 'white person' in the flesh before and I was quite the celebrity during our visit! The school was clean, had running water, a flushing toilet and each child had a desk, a chair, and pen and paper. They were also given a meal to get them through their day. When you sponsor a child through World Vision, your money doesn't go directly to the child, as most of you may or may not be aware. The money (minus any administration costs), goes to a project, and in our case, the project was Roongrat's school. Each child in the area was encouraged to attend and they were given all the necessary things needed to receive a basic education.
We were taken first to the staff room and made to sit and wait while they found Roongrat. I was very nervous and very, very excited. After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence and friendly smiles between us and the teachers, Roongrat finally poked his little head around the door and walked in. I think he felt exactly as I did. Without saying anything, he walked up to me and placed a paper hat on my head. He had folded it out of a piece of newspaper and had written his name in Thai, on one side, and my name in English, on the other. It took all my emotional strength not to lose it and blubber into his shoulder! I felt so overwhelmed and so happy to finally meet the little boy whose progress updates, drawings and little letters, we had been receiving for years before this.
That day also happened to be Roongrat's birthday, so after we had our photo taken with every class and every teacher, and after every child had come and touched my fair hand, we left on mopeds to visit Roongrat's family. On through more rice paddies we travelled until we came to what can only be described as a 'lean-to'. This was the family home. His mother, father and little sister greeted us with fresh lime juice. Roongrat's father was a proud man who couldn't wait to show us around and introduce us to his favourite chickens, and to show us his small crop of corn. His mother was very shy and I think probably felt just as overwhelmed as I did. We made small talk for a little while, thanks to the translation skills of our guide. I gave Roongrat a tennis ball and two small bats for his birthday, and we gave him some bags of sweets to share with his sister and his class mates. Possibly the first time he had experienced either of those things. We said our sad goodbyes and headed back to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, tired, weary and very, very happy.
The contrast between Roongrat's home and his school was almost incomprehensible. The school was made up of modern brick buildings and all the necessary conveniences, albeit in a simplified state. His home was just the opposite. It made me proud to think that because of my sponsorship, Roongrat and his friends were able to receive the kind of education we take for granted here. Roongrat wanted to grow to be a doctor. He would be 26 now, and while I have no contact with him or his family anymore, I can only hope that he has achieved what he wanted.
We now sponsor a little boy called Abel who lives in Chad in Africa. My children understand that he lives differently to us, and that in itself is an education for them. We live in such a greedy world these days, and too many people will only help if there is something in it for themselves. Charity and giving is something that we need to consciously remember, and should be a value that we instill in our children from a young age. Giving doesn't need to be monetary. We can give our time, we can share our skills, we can donate unwanted goods and clothing, and we can give our hearts. A charitable thought will go a long way, and once we all start doing this, we can create a positive world vision which will find us all on equal footing.