Alex was watching the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie while I was cooking dinner last night. A commercial came on for a program to help kids in third world countries. It featured a story of a family with several children, one of whom sometimes opts to go hungry so his little brother can have food. Normally, Alex doesn't watch commercials, since the magic that is Tivo allows us to fast forward through all those sugary cereals and Bratz dolls ads. This time, he watched this commercial intently, and ran in to tell me about it.
"Mom! There are kids who don't have food or parents! They don't have schools or medicine! I need to help them!" he said.
I asked him if he got the number or the website. He went back and got his dad to back up the Tivo so he could write down the number. The next thing I knew, he was on the phone.
"Hello? I'm calling to help the poor children. How much does it cost?" he said. "Well, my dad is here and he has the money." My husband got on the phone and found out that the group is called Plan USA, and for $24 a month, you can sponsor a child in a third world country. They send letters and updates from the kids periodically. They asked what country we wanted the child to be from, and Alex thought about it. "Egypt," he said. He wanted to sponsor a boy from Egypt.
Alex got back on the phone to ask a question. "When will he be coming to our house?" he said. They explained that he would not be coming to our house, but we could go visit him. Alex loved Egypt, so I think he now wants to go back.
Frank hung up the phone and we realized that we knew absolutely nothing about this group or what they did, so we Googled them. We found a blog post on Mortaine's Blog from a woman who has sponsored several children through Plan USA for 15 years. It was very reassuring. I wrote a comment, and she e-mailed me that she was about Alex's age when she first saw the ads for Plan USA and decided to help. It was one of the best things she has ever done, she said. After reading her post, we all got very excited about the prospect of hearing about the child.
Over dinner, we talked about what sponsoring this boy meant. Alex said, "I want to help the poor people not be poor. Maybe he will find a family, if he's an orphan. Maybe he'll get medicine if he's sick."
We talked about a boy we met two years ago visiting the Great Sphinx at Giza. He wore ragged clothes, and the soles of his shoes were barely hanging on. His smudged little face was streaked with tears, and his older brother was yelling at him. He was about 7, the age Alex is now. He was not in school, even though it was a weekday. He was selling old postcards to tourists for change. We bought his postcards, and he smiled. Alex called him his friend. When they parted, Alex said, "Don't be sad, I love you." I'm pretty sure the boy did not speak English, but it didn't matter.
Alex remembered him when I brought it up, though vaguely, and was happy that he was now going to help a child like his postcard seller friend.
People have often asked us why we have traveled so much with Alex. The reasons are partly selfish (we love traveling), and partly because we want to educate him that not everyone in the world has the advantages that he has. Some people have more, but many, many people have less. Giving him the sense that he can make a difference is a harder lesson, but somehow, I think he's learned it.