As the lead singer from MercyMe was giving his pitch between sets for child sponsorship at the Rock and Worship Roadshow tonight, one of my 7th grade girls leaned over and started asking me questions.
"So you have to pay $30?"
"Yep, every month."
"But Miss, I only have $3. And it's taken me...*counts on fingers*...three months to get that much."
Now, this girl has a place to live, a loving mother who takes good care of her, a place to go to school, and a rockin' after-school program she attends (wink). I'm sure she's "better off" than most of the kids whose photos are on those packets that they hand out at concerts. But it was humbling to hear her honest response at the fact that: one, she doesn't have the resources to sponsor a child even though I think the thought did cross her mind; and two, that she only averages $1 a month from her mom's pocket change while other children are receiving $30 from total strangers.
I was a child sponsor for a couple of years in college, and I think child sponsorship is a fascinating and cool idea. There are some really great organizations out there that do really awesome things for their sponsored communities. But I continue to wonder why we cling to the idea of helping out a child from a faraway place with whom we correspond through letters, when there are so many children in need next door who we might see everyday. I still wonder what my motivation was when I sponsored a child. We often fail to recognize the struggles of our coworkers, our neighbors, our family members when it is so much easier to feel bad for the "cute little Latino children"--who, in my current situation, are my immediate neighbors in need. I think detachment from a situation makes it easier on ourselves. If we are detached from a problem, but can still give our money to help resolve it, we will take advantage of the opportunity to give with a limited burden on ourselves by simply giving money. And that's ok.
But I don't see the kids in our community as those whom I give charity to; they ARE my community and I care deeply about them. I don't give them my money; I give them my time, my energy, and my love. I hope everyone who takes steps to donate their money also take steps to grow relationships with those right next to them in their immediate community as well.
Saturday, February 11, 2012
Our program encompasses the two cities of Las Cruces and El Paso, and we volunteers make the trip north to Las Cruces a couple times every month for different events. This weekend we had guests from the Urban Servant Corps experiencing the border region in both El Paso and Las Cruces, and I became a supplemental driver for myself and other volunteers. The trip is relatively short--about a 45 minute drive. For those of you in northwest Iowa, it's comparable to a trip to Sioux Falls from Rock Rapids. I remember throughout growing up taking trips to Sioux Falls on special occasions, either to shop, to eat out, or to attend a Girl Scout event. In high school the trips became more frequent, first with the hospitalization of my grandma. For over four months, my dad drove up to Sioux Falls almost everyday to visit her in the hospital. Then as I got involved in TEC (weekend high school retreats), I made a bunch of friends in Sioux Falls and would frequently travel to hang out with them. Then I ended up at Augustana for college and made many a trip to Rock Rapids for breaks, but also just when I needed something from home or for other events. Many people commute to Sioux Falls everyday for work or school. Overall, traveling to and from Sioux Falls was no big deal, just as traveling to and from Las Cruces has become not such a big deal for us El Paso volunteers this year.
Last weekend, I took a couple of young men who are involved in our community outreach to Las Cruces to earn some extra cash. (They walked around Walmart dressed as Chester the Cheeto's cheetah for four hours.) On our drive up they mentioned to me that this was their second and third time going to Las Cruces. These guys have lived in El Paso for years, and when I was their age (17-19), I was traveling in my own car (well, my parents' car that they let me use for myself) back and forth from Sioux Falls all the time. These teenage guys rarely have the opportunity to travel outside El Paso; nevertheless, visit other parts of El Paso, too. They don't have cars, they don't have driver's licenses...things that are sometimes assumed that a person has in this country (especially in smaller communities where there is no such thing as public transportation). In a community where papers, poverty, and accessibility are always an issue, one would think I would expect that teenagers aren't driving their own cars all over town or aren't in line at the DMV a few hours into their 16th birthday. But it wasn't until I reflected on my own teenage experience that I thought even more about how different life is for a teenager living in this area of El Paso.