Recently our mail included the annual status report on the child our family supports through Chalice, formerly Christian Child Care International. She lives in Haiti, the poorest and most densely populated country in the Western Hemisphere.
Our family learned about Chalice, a Canadian Catholic organization, several years ago when a visiting priest spoke at Mass about its projects. Chalice's mission is to "support local initiatives in developing countries, primarily through the sponsorship of children and elderly in need." In doing so, it gives witness to Christ's love and provides hope for the future. (To learn more, go online to www.chalice.ca.)
It's tempting to turn away when confronted with the plight of the poor, overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and helplessness — and perhaps also guilt. We feel incapable of comprehending it, let alone fixing it.
The Chalice spokesperson wasn't asking parishioners to save the world, though, only to improve the life of one child. A monthly contribution of $33 from an individual, family or group would cover the cost of education (including tuition, uniform, books and supplies), a nutritious meal at the school canteen (the only meal a student may have all day), medical care and other basic needs.
I was reminded of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's famous quote, "If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one," and felt called that day to respond.
Selecting from among the children's profiles was the hard part. They all lacked basic necessities of life. I couldn't help imagining the heartache their parents must feel at being unable to provide for them. I wished I could help them all.
I ended up deferring to my kids, who chose six-year-old Riphtama.
The sponsor package contained sobering information about Riphtama's homeland. The illiteracy rate is 70 per cent. Employment is scarce, and most Haitians work as subsistence farmers or street vendors. The majority live in rural areas in extreme poverty. Most don't own the land they live on and can be evicted at any time. Three-quarters don't have access to electricity or running water.
Riphtama's situation is no exception. She lives with her mother, two sisters and five other relatives in a one-room hut with clay walls, a thatched roof and no amenities. Her mother grows a garden to try to support the family.
Riphtama's picture sits on our living room mantel, and we pray daily for her and her family. Described in her profile as "a thin, timid girl, prone to ear infections, fevers and colds," she now has fewer health issues, participates in class and is generally more active.
In her latest photo, Riphtama stands proudly in her school uniform, consisting of a yellow blouse, powder blue pleated skirt, white ankle socks and black shoes — by far the nicest apparel she owns. She's holding a large backpack — a cherished possession kept in mint condition, similar to her school clothing.
The mailing also includes a drawing of her house. It has no windows.
The sponsorship experience reminds our family not to take for granted amenities of North American life such as traversable roads, sanitation services, public education, public libraries and socialized health care, to name just a few.
It also fosters a critical view of our culture's consumer mentality, which focuses on lack rather than abundance, and want rather than need. North Americans love to play the lotteries and dream of becoming millionaires, but the truth is most of us are incredibly wealthy compared to our Third World counterparts.
I hope those of us fortunate enough to live in Canada took time during our recent July 1 celebrations and will continue to give thanks for the many blessings associated with living in a place that each year makes the United Nations' top 10 list of the best countries in which to live.
Let us also not forget that as Christians, we are called to solidarity with our brothers and sisters in less developed countries. We must pray for them and support, in any way we can, projects designed to improve their quality of life.
No challenge is too difficult to meet when we're committed to being Jesus' hands and feet.