Monday, March 15, 2010

The $400 Pair of Shoes

When it comes to poverty, it is easy to focus on the obvious. We are moved to compassion when we see people lack food, clean water, shelter, have no shoes on their feet, and have dirt floors. We can see the homeless on the street and know they are hungry and cold. Working at the orphanage in Peru I saw poverty first hand. Then, my two years at Compassion International I worked hard to serve the poor. Recently, God has softened my heart to a whole other kind of poverty. Let me explain.

Moving to Eastern Europe, I did not experience 'culture shock' in Ukraine itself, but rather at the school I teach. My school is an elite private school. Much of the student body is comprised of families with money and status. One year tuition for a student of any age K-12 costs approximately $15,000. Although there are numerous healthy loving families at the school, some students and their families are consumed with wealth, status, and materialism. I would be a liar to say I myself do not caught up in these things at times as well. However, there are times when I learn of few student situations where they are removed from family relationships and are lacking guidance, love and quality time with parents.

When school started in August one of my students told me they could not run because he was wearing his $400 pair of shoes! Coming from an organization that works to provide basic needs for children who have nothing, I wanted to tell him his shoes could feed a village! This student is a kind, polite student in which I know nothing of his own personal family situation. But again, the wealth that exists within our school walls was where I experienced my own culture shock.

Within my first week as a physical education teacher it became obvious that I would have to work hard to gain the respect of some of my students. Believing that this would come as a result of building relationships, I made it a point to attend all soccer games and focus on how each player I had in class performed. The following day I would congratulate them on the goal they kicked, or comment on their effort and team work. Eventually these few students that were challenging and withdrawn from instruction and activity in my classes  took on a new attitude and started to do their best in class and show respect.

While attending games, I found the bleachers on the field very lonely. Where were all the parents? A few staff, students, and several parents would be there to support the school soccer team, even during very important games.

During a parent teacher conference one of my students approached my desk to say hi. He was accompanied by a man who I assumed was his father. When asked if he was the boy's father my student replied he didn't have a dad.

Many students are dropped off and picked up from school, not by their parents or families, but by their body guards or drivers. At times drivers will even accompany them to their teacher conferences and report back to the parents. Some students live here in Kiev by themselves while their parents are in a totally different region far from Kiev, totally detached from the precious childhood years of their sons and daughters.

This is a different kind of poverty. These children are not growing up without shoes on their feet, wondering if they are getting a meal tonight, and looking longingly into a school house window wishing their family could afford basic public school fees. Many children at our school have everything they could possibly want. A six year old has an iPhone, students have name brand clothing, $400 pair of shoes, even penthouse apartments waiting vacant for them until they graduate high school. They have everything and they are rich in materialism, but poor in spirit, but Matthew 5:3 says "Blessed are the poor in spirit...". These few students lack important family relationships. Some lack  love and belonging within their family, when that is were we should receive it the most. It's a new kind of poverty I have never seen. God has opened my eyes and softened my heart to the poverty of this world. All of it, for richer or for the poorer.


Hermann8er said...

Oh my my...I have had a similar experience here on Oahu. Private school is the "thing" to do here...parents with and without money lie, cheat, and steal to get their kids into the "best" schools. I teach after school ballet at one of the private schools. The kids are so desperate for love. They take ballet after school not because they want to, but because their parents sign them up for 3-4 activities AFTER SCHOOL to bide the time until someone can pick them up! They are yearning for love...some of them only in kindergarten...In short, I give a lot of hugs every day. THank you for your blog. So poignant.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Adam said...

Thanks for shareing that, very interesting to think of poverty of the spirit. I think it's in James somewhere where God said something not treat the poor differently than you would the rich, for God blessed the poor to be rich in faith. (paraphrased) If I find it I'll send you the verse. I absolutly loved the blogs I read and saw...and loved the pictures of you guys jumping. It makes me miss you guys and wish we were close so we could raise our kids you
~Adam J