The Value of Teaching Kids About Poverty

Jun 16, 2010 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

One of my colleagues at, Mike Nagel, just returned from an earthquake relief trip to Port-au-Prince. Mike spent a week working in an impoverished tent community called Ktadb, giving away supplies our team helped collect (tarps, school supplies and light construction materials), helping with food and medical distribution, and laying the groundwork for other relief teams to continue delivering much-needed aid.

Five months have passed since the earthquake, and there are still thousands of people living in shelters made of bed sheets. Families are still split apart with children searching for parents and vice-versa. There are still so many children in need (nearly half of Haiti's population is under age 20) with many orphaned or struggling to provide for themselves. International aid is still pouring into the country, but it's slowed dramatically from the weeks following the January disaster as the world's attention has shifted.

After seeing his pictures and hearing his stories, I couldn't help but think of my own home country. Before immigrating to the States, I grew up in the Philippines. It's a beautiful country with a rich history and culture, but it's experiencing the pains of development. Nearly one-third of the population lives below the poverty threshold in the Philippines, and 44 percent of the country subsists on less than two dollars a day.

Growing up in a place where poverty confronted us on a daily basis profoundly impacted my life. My parents taught my siblings and I that if we were successful, we were supposed to use our position in life to give back to those in need. It's a lesson I'm trying to impress on my own boys, as well.

The Philippines, Haiti and other underdeveloped countries have been on my mind lately. It's especially due to Adam (our 10-year-old) asking more questions. He's at the age where he's starting to think beyond the borders of our home and his school, and consider the rest of the world. He watches the news with us and we encourage him to talk about what's going on. When the earthquakes hit Haiti and Chile, he had a lot of questions, including why those countries experienced so much devastation when a similar quake shook Los Angeles but didn't cause nearly the same amount of damage. Asking him what he thought and providing guidance helped give him a new perspective on the needs of others.

It's easier for parents to talk to their kids about poverty when they see it more often. You have more opportunities for those precious "teachable moments" that we parents love. Here in America, where Ron and I have raised our two boys, those sorts of opportunities don't just happen; you have to create them.

One of the biggest ways we've encouraged Adam to think about the circumstances of others is through an activity he loves--the Boston Children's Chorus. The Chorus is a local choir made up by children from all social, economic and racial backgrounds. Its mission is to "serve as a catalyst for community-building and social healing." It's a way for our little guy to not only do something he loves, but also be a part of a true community where kids from all backgrounds can connect to work and sing together. The chorus has helped him move beyond our neighborhood and dip his toes into real world. It's a small step, but it's a start.

I believe that wherever you are and whatever you do, you can find ways to help others. As parents, we have to take hold of every opportunity and use them as teaching tools to open our children's eyes to the global community. It can be as simple as a conversation after watching a news story about another country, sponsoring a child and starting a pen pal relationship, helping your kids organize a neighborhood food drive, or pausing your daily routine to acknowledge those less fortunate. Whatever you choose, teaching your children about poverty will put them on track to become better, more socially conscious global citizens so one day they'll work hard to give back, too.