A canteen and a drinking glass. If that is what your child unwrapped on Christmas morning, would he be grateful? And if his three siblings got six bags of concrete and a bucket of sand, would they show gratitude for their bounty?

We are so blessed to live in America. And in many ways, we are so entitled and spoiled. There are exceptions, but generally speaking, the poorest child in the United States will not face the deprivations of a child in a destitute country.

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Our family has had the privilege of sponsoring two children, one in the Philippines, the other in Uganda. Joreme, our 12-year-old sponsored child in Uganda just sent us a thank you card for the Christmas gifts he received through our sponsorship. He was so grateful for the canteen that he could take with him out to the field to work his family’s tobacco and coffee crops. He has to walk for miles to fill that canteen at a well. And now, he can drink from a glass at home.

Joreme is the only child in his family of six who has a sponsor. His siblings didn’t get gifts of their own, but shared in the pleasure of having bags of concrete to fix their crumbling home. The family also got a mattress to share. They’ve never had one before. As Joreme said to us in his letter, “We celebrated our Christmas with great joy.”

As our family read Joreme’s latest letter, we couldn’t help but feel a mixture of gratitude for our own abundance, tempered by a sense of shame by all the things we take for granted. Certainly, our kids have never walked miles for water or to collect scarce wood for the stove. Here, a calamity is not a crumbling house in need of cement. It’s sketchy internet on one of the six cell phones and six computers we own.

We sponsored Joreme several years ago through an organization called UNBOUND. The goal is to help families in poverty become self-sufficient. Our first sponsored child decades ago was Regina in the Philippines. She is now a self-sufficient 30-year-old. One year, we asked our children to settle for a little less in material goods so that we could spend $1,000 for hearing aids for Regina. Our kids didn’t miss out on anything that mattered, but Regina gained so much by hearing properly for the first time in her life. It gave her the opportunity to get her first job.

We can tell our children to be grateful. We can tell them to count their blessings. But when you sponsor a child in a poor country, it puts a whole new spin on gratitude. We get pictures of Joreme. We can put a face to this boy who is working so hard to overcome his poverty. He writes us, and we all write him back. It’s a connection you can’t get by just sending a check somewhere. Not all charities are created equal. Check out administrative costs before you give. We chose UNBOUND because 92 percent goes directly to program services. That leaves just eight percent dedicated to fundraising and salaries.

There is such truth to the saying that it is better to give than receive. Also true:  giving is the greatest gift we can ever receive.


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