For years, we had the stress of trying to fulfill the holiday and birthday wish lists of nine children. I remember one particularly stressful Christmas was spent standing in a long line for the desire of our 7-year-old daughter Shawni’s heart: A Baby Alive doll. Just as I got to the front of the line, much to my chagrin, the woman in front of me got the very last doll. I was devastated trying to figure out how to tell Shawni that Baby Alive was dead! Then there was the time when we discovered at about 2 a.m. on early Christmas morning that the “Santa gift” for our little 6-year-old Jonah was gone. The gift, which was a little robot that could sweep the floor (six inches at a time), had been stored in the garage in a black garbage bag for several weeks, and had somehow apparently been inadvertently thrown away. Great idea to put it in a garbage bag… in the garage, right? One year when our house was full of teenagers and kids down to age 10, we decided that enough was enough. The last thing we needed was a bunch more “stuff.” We knew that our kids were living in a bubble with no realization of the real world or the situation that many living in poverty faced every day of their lives.After careful deliberation we took a deep breath and told the kids that what they would be getting for Christmas that year, in lieu of all the gifts and paraphernalia that previously permeated Christmas, was a ticket to Bolivia, for a project sponsored by a great humanitarian group in Salt Lake City called CHOICE Humanitarian. On Christmas morning we loaded our rides to the airport with a ridiculous amount of “stuff,” not for us, but for the villagers living in a remote village called Tuni on the Altiplano (high plains of the Andes Mountains). A previous humanitarian group had built a cistern on a little hill about a half a mile from the village to catch water. It was our goal to help finish digging trenches with picks and shovels in the rock-hard soil for PVC pipe so that by New Year’s Day we could turn on the spigot in the center of the village, which would be the first running water in their history.
The work was difficult and we were gasping for breath at 14,000 feet, but our kids fell in love with the village children. It had been a really hard decision for our youngest child, Charity (pictured above), to give up her Santa list! We gave her the choice to stay with Grandma, where Santa would surely find her, but after careful thought, she decided to come and was overjoyed at what she experienced! In addition to the hard work, our teenagers had the time of their lives playing with the village kids and looking into the one-room mud homes and dirt floors of these humble villagers. We had two kids who spoke some Spanish, which was helpful, but for the most part, language wasn’t important. The love we felt for each other was.
One of our most fun activities after being greeted by the village band and a shower of Bolivian confetti (that is not dandruff in my hair) was taking Polaroid pictures of the families. They had never seen a picture of themselves, nor did they have mirrors, so it was hard for them to even know how they looked. It was such fun to see them examine who they were in these pictures. I’m sure those pictures are still hanging in their homes all these years later! It would take a whole book to really explain the world of good that came to our family from that stunning experience, which became the first of many. Let us just say that the villagers were a bit doubtful about the water project actually working. After all, there were places where the PVC pipe went uphill for a while, and they just didn’t see how it would work. So you can imagine the joy on the faces of the villagers when the village mayor turned on that faucet on January 1st and water spewed out. But the looks on the faces of our children were priceless!
For a similar experience for your own family next Christmas, contact CHOICEhumanitarian.org, AscendAlliance.org or RisingStarOutreach.org.