Learning the Spirit of Giving Through VolunteeringDecember 19, 2020
Guest post by Crystal Esteves from the Culture Trotters.
A year ago, I was preparing for Christmas just as millions of Americans are right now. I was all caught up in my first world problems, stressing about my budget and if it was enough to make my kids Christmas “magical”. Even after we started world schooling, I thought I was going to spend Christmas in Europe where there would be snow, and lights, and gingerbread, and all the little details of Christmas dreams come true. Nope, Europe is closed. We are in Zanzibar where 90% of the population is Muslim; they don’t do Christmas here. It’s on the equator, so I don’t think it’s going to snow. I can’t run to Target and get my family matching Christmas PJs, or spend way too long in the wrapping paper aisle trying to figure out which design best represents my Christmas theme this year. They don’t even have toy stores here, or candy shops, or anything that carries more than a handful of basic items, even Amazon isn’t an option. I think this is going to be the year the kids figure out the whole deal with Santa. Maybe I can get them one of the millions of refrigerator magnates in the souvenir shops here that says “Hakuna Matata” and wrap it in newspaper and leave it under a palm tree. When they find it, I can tell them Santa wanted to support small businesses and is buying local; or maybe I can just tell them he can’t travel this year due to Covid restrictions. Think they will buy it?
But here is the twist. We are going to have an amazing Christmas because traveling and volunteering as changed our view of what Christmas is supposed to look like. Here is what we have learned, or rather, what has finally sunk in after volunteering; and what we hope we don’t so easily forget.
First World Privilege
Privilege is a big word in the states these days. Who has it and who doesn’t. When compared to the third world, just being born in a first-world country where people can care about Christmas themed throw pillows and Starbucks’ flavors is privilege. The fact that I can even complain about a lack of gift-giving options while living on a tropical beach is another.
Volunteering in Tanzania meant that my children saw real poverty. They saw real need. They saw all the things we allow ourselves to turn a blind eye to because it isn’t right in front of our face. All the things we can so easily forget about as we get caught up in all the little details of life in a first-world country. Seeing people with so much less is an excellent reminder of how good we really have it. Even a 7- and 9-year-old can see this and grasp this.
We don’t really need gifts, period.
I mean – I know there are a lot of Christmas movies out there with this theme, and we all cry when the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes, and George Bailey runs home to his family, and Tiny Tim says “God bless us, everyone”. Everyone learns it’s not about the ‘stuff’, it’s about the spirit of giving, and then it magically snows. So, I’m not saying anything that Charlie Brown hasn’t already told us about not buying into the Commercialism of Christmas.
But where I have often been sidetracked isn’t in the giving; it’s in seeing real need.
Every year for Christmas I sit among a mountain of wrapping paper in my PJs and look at my new stash of fancy soaps, a pair of socks or a hat someone knit for me, and if I’m lucky, a bottle of wine and some chocolate. This is what we have come to expect from Christmas. We give a bunch of stuff that no one really needs to a bunch of people who could have bought it for themselves. All because the day is December 25th.
Seeing real need has changed that for us. Giving for us now comes with purpose. We want to give where there is need, and to those who need it. Often the people we are expected to buy gifts for are not the people who actually need them. Whether that need is, time, love, friendship, or as basic as food and water. We now want our Christmas to be focused on filling needs, not just buying gifts.
Creating Meaningful Details
Oh, I love all the little Christmas details. Pinterest makes me so happy with its perfect homemade snowflake shaped marshmallow that fit just perfectly in a Santa shape mug of fair trade organic hot cocoa. I will eat that stuff up. I will spend three days in the kitchen making every one of my grandmas, my husband’s grandmas, and the neighbors grandmas holiday cookie recipes if I think this will add just a little more sparkle to the holidays. Now here I am, not one of those details in sight, and we couldn’t feel more in the Christmas spirit. While all of that stuff can be comforting and fun, it’s the details, it isn’t the real source of Christmas warmth. While visiting a widow who is in extremely poor health and living in horrible conditions our 9-year-old son walked over and sat with her without prompting. He took her brush and started brushing her hair, he gave her a real hug, and he lifted her spirits in a way that no perfect cup of hot cocoa could. These are the details we want this Christmas. This is our new Christmas magic.
So here we are a world away from everything we have ever know about Christmas, and yet Christmas has found us in a more real way then we have ever experienced it before.
Most of our realizations came while volunteering with the Widows Project. The Widows Project is a charity in Tanzania working to help widows and their children who are struggling to meet their basic needs. In many parts of the world widows do not have the same support and rights as we are used to; when losing their husband, they can lose literally everything and be left with no way to support themselves or their children. Not only does the Widows Project work to keep food on these family’s tables, but they also help with housing, and transportation needs…real needs. They are currently working on raising the funds to start a school for the children, as a good education is the key to helping lift these children and their future children out of poverty and into a brighter future.
If you would like to help us make a meaningful difference this holiday season. Please help by visiting and sharing our fundraiser page for the Widows Project.
More About The Culture Trotters
The Esteves family left the states in late February to travel the world full time. Just three weeks later Covid 19 hit and changed everything. They ended up spending 7 months in Mexico having some amazing adventures. Recently they made the jump to Tanzania Africa where they are living more like locals and less like tourists in an effort to give their kids a more unique and in-depth cultural experience. Share in the adventures as they navigate their way around the world in these uncertain times on their YouTube channel Culture Trotters Get daily photos of their experiences on Instagram @culturetrotters.