When children at an orphanage in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia learned about other children growing up in the city’s largest garbage dump, they felt more than compassion. They felt moved to act.
Parents, you’ve probably been there.
You enter your child’s room and look down at what was once only carpet. Now, piled before you, are action figures, Barbie dolls, pieces from five different board games, dress-up clothes and school clothes, and about a million Legos.
After trying to decipher which toy piece goes with which toy, and inevitably stepping on a Lego or two in the process (ouch!), you decide that it’s time for some major spring-cleaning.
And, hopefully, a lesson in generosity to go with it.
You bring your preschooler into his or her room, and gently tell them that it’s time to pick out some toys and clothes to donate, maybe to a daycare, or a secondhand store, or a homeless shelter — for kids and families who need a little extra help.
Now, the question to your child: “What would you like to give away?”
The answer: Give away? Nothing … these are my toys and clothes.
Suddenly, that toy that hasn’t been played with in almost a year is now your child’s favorite toy, and he just can’t bring himself to part with that two-sizes-too-small T-shirt. This might be a tough process, but, hopefully, if it becomes a common practice, your youngster will begin to understand the significance of giving back, of not living in excess, and of how it feels to make someone’s day — and possibly life — a little brighter.
Still, it can be a hard sell asking a 3-year-old to give up his toys for the first time in his life. Generosity doesn’t always come easily.
But for a group of children at the Big Family Institute in Mongolia, it does come easily. Perhaps because life hasn’t.
For the past six years, Holt has supported a kindergarten program at this government-run care center in Ulaanbaatar. The children in care here know what it’s like to go without. Many of them are orphans. Some were relinquished by parents or extended family who lacked the resources to care for them. Some were found abandoned. So when the children at this institute learned about the children in Holt’s newest program in Mongolia, what they decided to do was extraordinary.
It all started late last year when Holt’s Mongolia staff visited the Big Family Institute. During a conversation with the institute’s director, our staff member mentioned that Holt had recently begun partnering with the Red Stone School — a school that provides education to children who are growing up in a literal garbage dump just outside of Ulaanbaatar.
Were it not for the Red Stone School, these children would be “rummaging through the trash looking for items to resell or recycle” instead of going to school, explains Paul Kim, Holt’s director of programs in Korea and Mongolia, says. “Even if they could afford the small bus fare to the free public school,” he says, “the children would be ridiculed because of their limited means and often poor hygiene.” But the Red Stone School — made up of two storage bins fused together — provides a safe haven for these children, who are now also enrolled in Holt’s child sponsorship program.
When the children at the Big Family Institute learned about the children at Red Stone, they not only felt empathy and compassion for them. They immediately asked how they could help, too.
“They understand the children at Red Stone,” Paul says of the children at Big Family Institute, who range from kindergarten to high school age. “Today, the children at the institute are well cared for, but they still know what it’s like to have very little, and they wanted to do something to help these other children.”
Over the following weeks, the children at the Big Family Institute gathered warm coats, clothing, books, small school items “and anything and everything they weren’t using,” Paul says, to give to the children at the Red Stone School.
Seventeen-year-old *Odon came to Big Family at the age of 7. Her uncle admitted her, but never visited. She will graduate high school this year. And *Chuluun, also 17, came to the orphanage at the age of 4. He’s also graduating high school this year. Both serve as members of the Big Family student council and spearheaded the Red Stone School donation effort, even asking other organizations in Ulaanbaatar to donate items.
In December, Chuluun and Odon, along with other children from the institute, personally delivered the donated items, first visiting the garbage dump where the children and families live. “When they visited the garbage site, it was very cold winter time and their donation of warm clothes for the kids was the right timing,” says Gantuul Bataa, a Holt staff member in Mongolia. “They want to make this giving an annual event.”
Some of the older children at the institute are also very talented musicians, and in addition to donating, several offered to perform during Holt’s annual Christmas party that sponsors fund for the children they support in Mongolia. “The children loved the entertainment,” Paul says.
Come spring, the children at Big Family plan to plant trees in the vacant and dusty fields around the school. “You’ll be able to see tangible evidence of their generosity for years to come,” Paul says.
Philippians 4:12 says: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
The children at the Big Family Institute are living this verse in full. They have felt the pains of hunger and the bitterness of the cold. But at Big Family, they have found hope and love — and a makeshift family — among their friends and caregivers, and support and encouragement from their Holt sponsors. Although they still have very little, they have chosen contentment, and therefore have hearts that are willing and happy to give.
“Children with so little, giving to children with even less,” Paul says. “That kind of compassion is amazing, isn’t it?”
Ashli Keyser | Staff Writer