On the London underground last week, my 9-year old pointed to an ad featuring a newborn baby.
‘What’s that, mummy?’ she asked.
‘It’s an appeal for people to donate £3 to help buy thermal blankets for Syrian refugees,’ I answered, and my daughter nodded.
‘We’ve talked about the refugee crisis in school,’ she said. ‘Can we make a donation, please?’
OK,’ I said.
‘But we’ll need to give more than £3 if we’re going to help children and babies like him,’ she said and pointed again to the infant in the ad.
So that’s what we did.Admittedly, my daughter lives a relatively sheltered, privileged life in North London and doesn’t fully comprehend the realities of war, but she is becoming increasingly conscious of the world outside, and better yet, she gives a damn.
She subscribes to First News, a weekly children’s newspaper that mixes serious articles about global affairs with more light hearted pieces about books, films, etc. The first thing my daughter says when she arrives home from school on a Friday afternoon is,
‘Where’s my newspaper?’
Soon enough she’ll disappear upstairs to her room with First News tucked under her arm, and that’s the last we see of her before dinner.
Since I’m a self-confessed news junkie and can’t bear the thought of not having a newspaper delivered to my doorstep every morning, I’m ever so pleased that my first-born appears to be taking after me.
Recently she came into my office and said, ‘I want to do something to help other children, mummy, but I don’t know what I can do.’
I suggested she put her creative talents to good use. After all, she loves writing, drawing, sewing and making things.
She didn’t look very convinced by my suggestion and later came to tell me that she’d decided to sell the toys, books and clothes she no longer wants and donate the proceeds to a children’s charity.
I’ve no doubt she’ll put her plan into action, and she’s even solicited further support for her idea from a couple of friends who’ve agreed to join her fundraising drive.
As a mother, my first instinct is to protect my children, of course, but I also realise that I don’t do them any favours by completely sheltering them from the political, social and environmental realities of the world. That’s why I think First News is so great; it’s informative as well as digestible for a 9-year old.
Whilst no such newspaper was available when I was little, I credit my grandparents especially with instilling a social consciousness in me from an early age, and I’m adamant that my children, in turn, develop a strong sense of social responsibility as they grow up.
Admittedly, I was somewhat of an idealist in my youth, but gradually became more cynical, a quality erroneously interpreted as a sign of maturity.
Oscar Arias, formerly President of Costa Rica and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his peacemaking efforts in Central America, said in a speech in1997,
‘The 20th century has been marked by cynicism, selfishness, greed, and the desire to please, all without changing the status quo. In the 21st century, we must resurrect solidarity, and compassion.’
Unfortunately, it seems the 21st century has carried on pretty much the same as its predecessor; cynicism, selfishness and greed are just as present today as it was twenty years ago.
Despite the gloomy state of the world in 2016, it’s heartening to find that solidarity and compassion haven’t completely died out. As European governments continue to argue about the destiny of thousands of Syrian refugees knocking on Europe’s door, civic initiatives have sprung up determined to help refugees desperate to escape war and destruction.
There are those who say there’s nothing they can do to change things because the world is either controlled by a conspiracy to keep us all down and out or because nothing will help because the power lies squarely with selfish and corrupt politicians. My response to them is: there’s always something we can do.
And, as my daughter tells me, no matter how small the deed, doing something good for others always makes a difference.