(Photo: Compassion International)
COLORADO SPRINGS - I am re-evaluating the scope of my investments thanks to my new advisor. She’s an elementary school student in Uganda.
I first noticed her sitting on the steps of a Compassion child development center during lunch at a church outside of Kampala. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how old children are in the developing world. They can be smaller and slight for their age, but I guessed her to be about 8.
I also noticed her by the massive portion of food on her plate. I am always amazed at the amounts of food Compassion staff serves up to these little children - and how clean and empty their plates come back.
But unlike her peers, this little girl wasn’t eating everything she was served. As she started her lunch, she purposefully unwadded a small piece of black plastic and smoothed it out on the step next to her. Then she used her plate as a buffet: a thick slice of juicy pineapple, a piece of sweet potato, a scoop of matooke, and several spoonfuls of beans. She took some of each and mounded them in the middle of the plastic, drew up the corners and carefully twisted it into a hand-fashioned bag. With her package secured, she held it in her left hand and went to work on the food remaining on her plate. She never put the bag down.
I knew what she was doing. This was “carry-out” for a brother or sister at home, or maybe for a mom or guardian.
I was wrong.
This little girl was the only child left at home. Her parents were able to provide food. This was a meal, a church worker told me, destined for a friend who lived next door.
That’s the moment she became my advisor on investments, teaching me two key lessons on giving and the poor.
First, this little girl taught me that sharing means giving the best right off the top - not giving what’s left or passing along what I don’t want.
Would anybody have faulted her if she had leaned against the wall in the warm Ugandan sun and savored each slice of fresh pineapple? Or who would have thought twice if she ate eighty percent of her lunch and scraped the rest onto the plastic?
But that would be sharing as an afterthought, and this little girl approached life differently. She purposed to share first, took the best off the top of her plate, and set it aside for a friend. She began her meal by dividing it, not by devouring it.
There’s a second lesson that she taught on the steps of this little Ugandan church. She proved that when we share with the poor, we aren’t sharing with consumers. We are sharing with sharers. We are giving to givers. And we are investing in generous spirits.
I know the adage that says “give a man a fish and he eats for today - teach him how to fish and he can eat tomorrow.” It makes its point. But thanks to this Ugandan 8-year-old, I could fashion a new one. “Feed a child today, and you will give her lunch. Feed a child enough, and she will probably share it.”
When the poor have needs, parents, guardians and caregivers do whatever they can to bring home food. They are up early, walk long distances, and work hard to obtain what God tells us to pray for - daily bread. And after working hard for what sometimes is not all that much, you’d think the natural reaction would be to horde what they have. I am sure there are many who do.
But there are also mothers and fathers, aunts and brothers who take the same “share first, share much” approach to life of this little Ugandan. Our gifts have not reached the end of the line when they are received by people like her. They are multiplied by their generosity to others who have even less. And that’s what makes mercy and compassion such rock solid investments.
On this same trip, I captured a quote from a Ugandan who said, “When we give, we don’t give because of what we have. We give because we love.”
This little girl proved the quote to be true and became my advisor without saying a word.