By: Lois Scheerschmidt
I’ve known for a long time that my life was missing something. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks that comprise family, work and social interaction – easy to put ‘giving back’ aside. Off and on, I’ve looked at volunteer opportunities both locally and abroad but never actually took the steps to participate. Then along came Deanna with her seemingly endless enthusiasm, energy and foresight and I was drawn in and given the perfect opportunity.
When my son was born and I began to be aware of the difference between his upbringing and mine, I expressed (to anyone that would listen) that when he was 12 I was taking him to Haiti to volunteer so that he could see how truly fortunate he was. Nothing is more important to me than instilling in him the humility that could so easily be lacking in children brought up in our privileged society – I couldn’t bear to raise a ‘spoiled rotten’ child who was all about acquiring ‘stuff’.
We’ve been travelling extensively over the past few years trying to expose our son to as many cultures as possible. Having been to Asia once (Thailand and Singapore), we were excited to experience Laos – especially after Deanna described her experience there and her instant appreciation of Luang Prabang. But above all, we wanted to do what we could to better the lives of the children living in the orphanage schools in the area around Luang Prabang.
Part of the magic of Give A Shirt is definitely the process surrounding the collection of clothing and blankets to fill the sea can. Oh, that and watching Deanna tirelessly explore every possible avenue for obtaining contributions toward the end goal – the donation of the sea can, both inter-continental and trans-continental transportation, school and media participation. Persistence definitely pays off!!!
The contribution of the school age children is crucial to the overall success of Give A Shirt, not just in terms of labour (sorting and packing of clothes) but in the fact that so many children are made aware of what exactly it is they’re doing – giving away something they already have but don’t need anymore so that another child can have their basic needs met! It doesn’t get any simpler than that. Give A Shirt is responsible for making children aware of the plight of other less fortunate children in a tangible way.
My son and I had the experience of a lifetime in Laos. Our days spent at the orphanage schools were not easy – it was hot, dusty work sorting and distributing clothing. And we observed first hand the meals of sticky rice and nothing else, tattered, stained clothing, wooden beds with thin worn mats to sleep on. Worst of all were the concrete tubs in the middle of an open area that were used for ‘bathing’ while standing in the mud at their base. I asked Reid how he would feel about staying overnight there and saw his eyes grow big and round at the thought as he shook his head ‘no’.
We also observed the most beautiful children. They smiled and played and delighted in using the paints we’d brought to create a banner to send back to the children at Graminia school. One of my favourite moments (and there are many) was when my son handed one of the boys around his age a brand new soccer ball after they’d kicked it back and forth with each other for a while. He was incredulous at the idea that the ball was actually going to be his own!
While we were there, we started making plans for our return – when would we come, what would we bring etc. There was no question in my mind that I’d be back and that growing Give A Shirt would be a priority for many of us that were there. December 2014 with 2 sea cans will happen with the possibility of another contingent going around spring break. At this point, Deanna and I are discussing taking Kaelyn and Reid for the entire month of December with the intention of taking on some additional projects and maybe even learning to speak a little bit of the language!
The most difficult part of this experience was readjusting to life when we got back home. The excessiveness of our society is now a constant consideration for me. I find myself saying ‘that’s just stuff’ a lot of the time, when it comes to making new purchases and dealing with our existing possessions. I’ve always hated the idea of sending something to a land fill and consequently my son doesn’t have a lot of toys – especially not cheap toys that we know will break with only a few hours of use. And I admittedly have as hard a time throwing something away as I do buying it in the first place. I contemplated down sizing our house, made a career change and am still doing a lot of soul searching. How do we reconcile ourselves to the disparity of wealth in this world??? How could I every justify getting a pedicure for $60 when these children were only getting 14 meals a week and 11 of those meals were sticky rice! To fit in to my ‘culture’ I need to have pretty feet….. Actually writing it down makes me a little sick to my stomach.
I don’t know where this journey leads but I’m going to take it one day at a time and right now I’m looking ahead to next December and all of the planning, organizing and recruiting that will lead up to it! And I’m going to be eternally grateful for the generosity and courage of my friend Deanna!