10 November, 2015
I can still remember the disappointment. It was Christmas time and I must have been about eight years old. Like every other kid my age I’d been counting down the day until I could finally unwrap my stack of presents.
The night before, I was so excited that I could barely get to sleep. When morning finally arrived, I bounced out of bed and woke my bleary-eyed parents. We sat around the lounge room taking turns opening the presents. Things were going well – until I got to Grandma’s gift. I tore off the wrapping paper to find… some roll-on soap. I was devastated. Some consoling words from my parents did little to pick up my spirits. It was a crushing blow.
These days, my Christmas expectations are much lower. And I’ve come to realise just how wasteful Christmas can be. We end up giving presents for the sake of it – many of them useless gifts no one needs. I’ve been challenged with how to make a meaningful impact during a time filled with so much junk.
I was recently in Papua New Guinea where I met a lady named August. She’s a mother-of-four who has recently learnt to read, write and sew clothes by joining a project run by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). With the money she earned from selling the clothes she sewed, she was able to buy her own sewing machine. She also taught her husband to sew, and together they have started a small business. Now they have enough money to send their kids to school. Things are looking a lot brighter for them as a family.
Talking to August made me think about what’s really important. When I asked about her dreams, I was blown away at how modest they were. “I have my dreams for my children and what I want them to become in the future,” she smiled. “I want them to become teachers, nurses and leaders.”
And the key? Education. “Literacy helps us to realise bigger and better things that will help change our lives,” August said.
I was surprised to find out, that the average Papua New Guinean only gets about four years of schooling and earns an annual income of approximately $2,400. Gender inequality and unacceptable levels of violence present significant barriers to the nation’s development. Men are almost twice as likely as women to hold a paid job and they earn twice as much.
Education is proving to be a powerful tool in building mutual respect between men and women, and it’s showing positive progress in reducing violence as well.
August’s husband is now proud of his wife, “It is good for me to look after my family and to see my wife being a leader in the church and the community and to see her playing key roles. I am happy as a husband to support my wife.”
Best of all, August is now using her skills to impact others – to shine her light so that others can thrive too. “Whatever I know, I must teach other mothers to learn what I have learnt,” she said. Her impact is likely to affect dozens of people in the village.
When I think back to my experience as an eight-year-old, I cringe. Christmas can be such a selfish time, but it can also be a time of giving, sacrifice and generosity. So this Christmas I want things to change.
All I want for Christmas is for people like August to have the opportunities I take for granted. Eating three meals a day, drinking fresh water, being sheltered from the rain, and attending school.
By visiting adra.org.au/christmas or calling 1800 242 372 you can help people like August and her children realise their potential and thrive.
Note – names have been changed to protect privacy.