Saturday, 26 February 2011

A Glimpse of Reality

Today we went as a family to Step into Africa, by World Vision: AIDS experience. I went with a group of women from my Tuesday morning bible study on Friday night, which allowed me to screen the experience and make the final decision about how appropriate it might be for a two-year-old.

The event is very well designed. There are four different paths through the display, and each follows the true story of a child affected by AIDS. The event is narrated through a headset (much like what you get when you go to on a museum tour), and the pacing of the headset distribution pretty much guarantees that you will be walking through the stations in your individual story either by yourself or with a member of your party, but not with strangers, keeping the experience intimate. The event includes rooms that primarily focus on pictures, and rooms set with very realistic props-down to the cans of Zesta Red Plum, the ubiquitous plastic "Jerry cans," and "doors" made from vibrant African fabrics.

On Friday night I deliberately asked to follow one of the "unsuitable for children" stories, so that I could do a different story than the one we would do with Tommy (and I checked with the friend who did walk through the one we intended to do with Tommy to make sure it wasn't too scary). I followed Kombo on Friday - and his story was very moving, and honestly not as disturbing as it could have been, but probably better for either a fairly mature child or a teen. Thus this morning I knew exactly which story to ask for when we got to the headset window, as Emmanuel was both child appropriate and from Uganda.

Tommy made it through most of the story. He enjoyed looking at the pictures of kids in Uganda, and sitting in an African hut, and crouching under the leaves of a banana tree. He did get bored after we left the rooms with props, and removed his headset right as we had to go to the clinic to receive the results of our HIV test, and was not keen on putting it back on after that. He loved the chapel, but mostly because he thought (and announced very loudly multiple times) that it was a pirate cave, and we skipped the prayer wall with him because we didn't want to disturb the other visitors (all four stories converge at the clinic and continue on together). He had a blast at the donation center...because he got quite a bit of attention from some of the volunteers, had the chance to scribble on a flyer with a pen, and got to see "a movie" of some of the work World Vision is doing in Africa.

I am so glad that we had the chance to take him to something like this. Obviously I do not expect Tommy to come away with a good grasp of the impact that AIDS is having on children in Africa, but I do hope that exposure to the realities of life in Uganda/Africa from an early age will help him to develop compassion for others, and help him to understand a part of the background for why international adoption occurs in Uganda. Also, I have yet to find anything in our area that looks or feels like Africa...and since he is a bit young to return to the real thing (he can go to Africa when he is old enough for me to be comfortable with all the required shots, able to yell at the top of his lungs "I am an American Citizen," and old enough to remember at least a bit of his time there), we are settling for substitutes.

While I'm not advocating for full disclosure when it comes to AIDS and children, because Tommy doesn't need to know the gruesome things that AIDS does to the human body, or some of the awful ways that AIDS is purposefully transmitted by pillaging soldiers, I do want him to understand that not everyone lives in the comfort and relative safety of suburban America, and I want him to begin to understand that as soon as possible. Question to those more experienced parents out there: what have you done to teach your kids about the harsh realities of our world, and when did you start?


Katie said...

What a great experience! I love your criteria for taking Tommy to Africa. Very important that he can scream "I am an American citizen!"

Heather said...

Amy, I'm all for looking for opportunities like this! We haven't done much because I have trouble finding things they are allowed to do while they are young (like food prep at the soup kitchen, they have to be older). We do Operation Christmas Child every year, talk about our sponsored children/family, and talk about/pray for missionary friends in difficult places. We did a Trash-a-Thon a couple years ago (so the boys were about 2 and 3 1/2) that I thought was good exposure to the "bad side of town" and good practice in service.

Other than that, we haven't done much :-(. But, this Monday night we're going to an Empty Bowls event and in May we're partnering with other churches to serve the poor and homeless in our town instead of going to church services. I'm really looking forward to both of those things!

I want to develop compassionate hearts and attitudes of service as early as possible. I try to have a balance of "you are taken care of and don't need to worry about your needs being met" and "other people are hurting and we can help them".