Ralf comes home today. I have several nice surpises for him, like food and picking him up at the airport (which he knows, the surprise part is if I make it there on time without accidentally getting lured onto the sneaky road to Deggendorf).
I also have one or two unpleasant surprises in store, such as that I bought an Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas CD for the kids. I loved A & the C when I was a kid, and how Dave always yells, 'AL-VINNNNNN!' It totally rocks.
Then on the weekend Christmas will officially begin. We will acquire a tree and hang things on it. There will be music - possibly not the Chipmunks, my favorite Christmas music is Nat King Cole. We will get ready for the Christmas party we're having on Sunday. Cookies will be consumed with chai and/or coffee. Frangrant candles will be lit. Stuff like that.
Ralf and I each sponsor two children with the Christian Children's Fund and the SOS Kinderdorf. Well, actually, he sponsors two kids in Sierra Leonne and I sponsor one girl in Bolivia and an SOS Kinderdorf in Germany, where data privacy laws prevent you from sponsoring an individual child. Each sponsorship costs about $30/month and includes food supplements, education and medical attention.
Ralf read somewhere recently that it's good for the soul to give away 10% of your wealth to those in need. That's enough to notice but not enough to diminish your own quality of life. I haven't actually calculated if we actually do 10%, which means we haven't hurt our quality of life, but we definitely notice the money going out the door. So we're probably about right.
My sponsored child's name is Laura. I picked her because she has the same name as me (I'm very vain), lives in a very poor country and looked so sad in her picture. I first had the idea when L was born and I was home watching Roseanne alll day. I couldn't bear the thought of not having food or medicine for my perfect new baby and it actually tortured me to imagine any mother in that situation. So when the CCF commercial came on I picked up the phone. And once it turned out to be legit, Ralf did, too.
One of Ralf's sponsored children is truly poor. Her mother works in a different city, her father has some mysterious health issue and she lives with her grandmother in a small hovel. She once had a goat but it was stolen. Early pictures of her looked like she was jaundiced but since then she makes a healthier impression. One picture showed her at school - standing at her desk because there were no chairs. The other, a boy, lives in a Kinderdorf. His parents are dead. We receive occassional pictures and he looks very well-cared for.
My sponsored child is older (she's 8 now) and her family is less poor. Her father is a carpenter and her older siblings attend some sort of college. Once when I wrote to her and mentioned seeing a Harry Potter movie she wrote back to say she had seen it, too. Still, they are far from wealthy and there's no doubt with four children a bit of extra cash comes in handy.
Earlier this year I had a small crisis of faith about giving away my hard earned money. Last Christmas I sent Laura $50 as a combined birthday and Christmas present. It was a lot but I thought she could put it away for emergencies, higher education, what have you. Instead she bought a new designer bicycle.
This bothered me, which also bothered me, because a gift giver doesn't own the recipient. But my own kids drive used bicycles and their presents added up to about $20.
After thinking it over I decided I wasn't upset with Laura - who could blame her for wanting a flashy new bicycle? - but with the CCF that advises the family. Finally I wrote them a note explaining that they shouldn't assume I'll always have an extra $50 to give away and they should have encouraged the family to save the money. I added that I signed up with the CCF to fight true poverty, not buy luxury items.
They wrote back about how much Laura needed a bicycle and how used bicycles break faster and how excited she was. And there the matter dropped.
I still sponsor Laura, although I rarely hear from her these days. I remind myself that I was a lousy corresponent when I was 8, too, and trust she's enjoying school and life. The money I give to CCF benefits the entire community, not just her, making school and medical attention available to more people. So it's all good.
But this year she gets $20. Same as my kids.