BETWEEN THE LINES

Two books that teach children how to help others

Authors help children to see a way of life and financial circumstance that is completely different from their own

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 June, 2015, 6:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 June, 2015, 6:03am

Every one of us starts life as an egocentric baby, concerned only with having our own needs fulfilled. Somewhere along the road to adulthood, we all become less self-centred, to varying degrees. Some children are so protected from growing pains that they never let go of their self-centredness. Others grow up in an environment that lets them become empathetic and aware of others' feelings.

I was fortunate to have parents who valued volunteerism and community. As far as they could, they lived each day, putting the needs of others ahead of their own. This included participating in micro-loans to help friends through difficulties. Hui are loan clubs entrenched in Chinese society and extensively relied upon by the Chinese diaspora. My parents never turned down an invitation to join a loan club. With nothing more than a handshake, it was a win-win proposition that relied on mutual trust. My parents understood that, for the initiators of the loan clubs, the effect of this pooled support ranged from convenience to life-changing impact.

Katie Smith Milway explores its life-changing aspect in One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference. Part of the CitizenKid series of books, which uses fiction and non-fiction stories to inform and inspire children as global citizens, One Hen is about a boy whose mother receives a small loan from some village families after his father dies. The boy uses some of the money to buy one hen; it grows to 25 hens by the end of one year, and eventually becomes the largest poultry farm in Ghana.

I appreciate the idea of teaching people to help themselves. It seems to provide more sustainable outcomes than simply giving hand-outs.

As a result, I spend most of my free time volunteering with two local non-profit organisations that focus on training, including Bring Me A Book Hong Kong. Besides donating picture books, it focuses on training parents and teachers on the art and science of reading aloud to children.

Beatrice's Goat, a picture book by Page McBrier, tells the story of an impoverished family that was taught to help itself. Beatrice's family was given a goat by Heifer Project International, a non-profit organisation that seeks to end global hunger by providing livestock to poor communities around the world. The titular goat provides enough milk to feed Beatrice and her five siblings, with a surplus to sell for profit. In the end, Beatrice's dream to be a schoolgirl comes true.

These two books help children to see a way of life and financial circumstance that is completely different from their own. It's inspiring to know that, in the developing world, one simple hen or goat can bring about such change to a family and its community.

To build tolerance and compassion in children, parents can expose them to other families and societies. We read with horror news stories about rural farmers who sell their own daughters to support their families. Until you understand the abject poverty that they are fighting to overcome, you cannot feel compassion for such families. And when you feel compassion for them, you will be motivated to help them.

To help children find their own "something", Ellen Sabin's The Giving Book is an interactive tool that "helps them record their ideas, dreams and wishes for the world - making them the authors of their stories and creating a 'scrapbook' of their journey into compassion, philanthropy and the power of their actions."

Families who want to learn more about local children-related charities can visit the Children Charities Carnival on Sunday, from noon to 5pm at Dream Kids Club in Chai Wan. Visit their Facebook page or email ccc@prestique.com for more details.

Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation promoting family literacy