We can all do our bit to help others

As you are probably well aware, my focus long has been on kids, parenting and families. In the books I write and at my childcare center,  this often translates into helping parents  understand, educate and guide children towards happier, healthier futures.

Wednesday was no different. In fact, I was halfway done writing a Live Well Nebraska blog in honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month, a topic I believe should be hugely important for all parents – perhaps more so than many are even aware.

But I got distracted.  As I opened my web browser for what I swear was for work purposes only, I saw a top-of-the-page CNN video entitled Children of the Trash Dump. Such titles always lure me in and solidify my desire to do more to improve the lives of children and families. This one only strengthened that conviction.

You see, I’m fresh from a very powerful trip to South Africa, during which I toured the shantytown of Dunoon just outside of Cape Town. I saw both the terrible poverty and incredible resilience of its women and children. I left more determined than ever to do something. I imagine watching CNN’s story about the plight of children living on a trash dump in Vietnam, at risk of falling prey to child traffickers, may have the same effect on some of you.

What can one person do about such huge problems as poverty, child trafficking and illiteracy? In South Africa, I joined more than a dozen other members of the Global Hygiene Council to see firsthand the incredible power of teaching basic handwashing.

Sure, I talk about handwashing all the time, and yes, we teach students at my childcare center this basic life skill every day. But calling it a “life skill” takes on a different meaning when teaching it in a community with little running water and where families can barely scrape together the dollar a week it costs to buy soap.

The hopeful news in Dunoon is that a four-year handwashing study has yielded promising results – specifically, reducing diarrheal illness between 30 percent and 50 percent.

Those results would be great even here in Omaha. Now consider that diarrheal disease worldwide is one of the leading causes of death for children. I’m now dead serious about finding a way to donate to the Dunoon community as much soap as I can get my hands on. If you’re interested in helping, let me know.

But back to the children in Vietnam. The “hope” part of that story is one woman’s dream of a non-profit organization to fight trafficking in Vietnam. This small organization now is educating 200 poorest-of-the-poor girls in the hope of helping them avoid child traffickers. The visionary founder interviewed in the segment talks not only of the focus on “saving” girls through education but also about the importance of reducing the community’s reported illiteracy rate of roughly 99 percent.

I agree that education and literacy are the keys to helping people out of poverty and toward more successful lives. I’m also convinced that educating and empowering girls is central to solving not only poverty but also a number of the world’s other problems. If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe Oprah. Or Hillary or Bill Clinton. Or pretty much anyone who has ever read Nicholas Kristof’s powerful book Half the Sky.

And finally – I am a huge believer in the power of doing something over doing nothing. You may have heard the story of the boy and the starfish. In it, a man and a boy are walking on a beach littered with washed-up starfish. The boy picks up starfish and throws it back in the ocean. The man tells the boy there are far too many washed-up starfish to save them all. The boy says, “Well, I made a huge difference to that one.”

I love this story. I try to live by it. Clearly, so do the people whose far nobler efforts are recounted in Kristof’s book and CNN’s poignant video. The point is that every human being counts, and each of us can do something to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

At Primrose School, my childcare center, the teachers have T-shirts that read, “No matter how big or small, we all stand to make a difference in the world.”

My husband and I moved to Omaha nine years ago in large part because we were convinced we would not be alone here in believing that teaching young children to help others was fundamental. At Primrose, our Helping Hands curriculum isn’t just about the dollars kids raise to donate or how many mittens, books or cans of food they collect “for kids who don’t have them.”  It also emphasizes that we can make a difference if we take whatever opportunity we have to throw starfish back into the ocean.

I hope all of you will consider what you might do. Start big or start small. Think globally or act locally. Get your kids involved, and I promise that the world will be a better place for it.

On that note, I’ll get back to writing about getting kids to brush their teeth. After all, teeth are really important, too.