Nurturing Empathy Through Charity Enables Kids To Excel In Life


By Sarah Ooko

Shinji (9) and Aiko (7) are both pupils of the prestigious Hillcrest International Schools based in Nairobi, Kenya. They wake up each morning, get a shower and enjoy a hearty breakfast before being driven to school. In the evenings, they play a bit, do their homework and spend quality time with their parents before going to bed.

But for most children living in remote rural households that lack basic social amenities like clean water, life is difficult. Sunrise finds them on treacherous paths, walking over long distances in search of clean water for cooking and drinking to sustain their families.

In most instances, children as young as Shinji and Aiko are forced to walk for over six kilometres, carrying about 20 litres of water which exerts immense pressure on their tiny and frail bodies. This journey takes them through rough terrains that harm their feet whilst exposing them to all manner of dangers like rape, violence and wild animal attacks.

Children go twice a day to dig for water in a dry riverbed in West Pokot, Kenya.

Yet, they perform this tedious task each day, sometimes with empty stomachs or ailing bodies as they lack alternative solutions to their predicament. As a result, a majority of these children arrive in school late and tired. They are thus unable to fully concentrate in class or effectively participate in learning activities. When they go back home at sunset, they have no time to play or bond with their families as they have to begin the water journey all over again.

Kids from such impoverished backgrounds and those from privileged ones usually live in separate worlds. Therefore, without exposure, children from wealthy families may grow up thinking that life is merry hence becoming numb and disconnected from the pain and suffering of others.

"This isn't the right way to raise kids. If you want them to grow up as well rounded individuals with strong character that will enable them to whither life storms, then you need to create opportunities for them to help those in need - especially kids like them who are going through many challenges," said Susan Njoroge, a family counsellor and psychologist based in Nairobi.

It is for this reason that Emmy Bisley allowed her children – Shinji and Aiko -  to participate in a charity running event dubbed Global 6K for Water that was organised by World Vision in partnership with Hillcrest International Schools in Kenya (on May,19,2018).

The event, which began locally in 2015, is marked globally in May by World Vision International in all its country offices. It aims at raising finances to bring life-changing clean water to communities in need. The running event covers a distance of six kilometres (6K) as this is the average distance that people in affected communities walk to fetch water for home consumption which is often polluted in most cases.

Government statistics from the 2015 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) show that in rural areas where a majority of Kenyan children reside, an estimated 40 (39.2) percent of households rely on non-improved sources of drinking water which include surface water, unprotected wells or springs.

These contaminated water sources predispose children to waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and dysentery that are leading causes of child mortality or deaths in Kenya.

Dirty water exposes children to health risks such as diarrhoea.

Charity events such as Global 6K organised by various organisations are thus helping the country to bridge the access to clean water gap and improve the wellbeing of all Kenyan children irrespective of their backgrounds. This year's charity run raised approximately Ksh. 1,000,000 (US$9,875) in cash and kind. It will be used to construct water boreholes in some of the affected communities.

"I thought this event would be important for my children. Nowadays, most kids can kind of lose touch of reality. All they do is watch TV, go to nice malls and drive in fancy cars. They've got no understanding of what other children who are less fortunate go through."

According to Ms Bisley, such events enable children to develop empathy as they are able to put themselves in someone else's shoes.

"I first thought it would be easy. However, when we were on the trail, I found it so hard. I couldn't cope and was almost giving up. But mum encouraged us to keep going. Knowing that some children have to go through this everyday makes me sad. So I really want them to get water," said Shinji. He later told his mum that despite the challenges on the trail, "it was so worth it."

Shinji added: "At least we had shoes and water. Can you imagine a kid running and running and getting so tired yet they are holding a jerry can on their back filled with water and maybe having sunburns in hot weather? It's so sad. All children should have clean water."

After participating in the charity run, his sister Aiko also stated: "It's really hard to imagine a kid like me walking for long carrying water. If I was carrying my water and met them along the way, I would let them have some or just give all of it to them."

Tara Fitzgerald, one of the parents that helped to organise the charity event at Hillcrest noted that it is important to nurture empathy in children as they are the future leaders. "This will enable them to understand the problems of people they will be serving in their different careers.  You want to prevent them from becoming self-centred individuals that are aloof to challenges others go through. When they do this, they will excel in life."

Catherine Simiyu, an Art and Counselling teacher at the school stated that charity teaches children to readily help fellow children that may not have much. They thus grow up knowing that it is their responsibility to reach out to less fortunate people in the society.

"When I run for charity events like this, I think it's amazing. It's actually a privilege to be able to make a difference in other children's lives. So why not help when you can?" said Shae, another student who participated in the charity event.

Her running companion and friend, Maya  said: "We were among the first girls to complete this race and I believe it was an important thing to do, so we can educate people about others around the world that need water and other forms of help."

Shae (left) and Maya tackle some of the difficult terrains during the Global 6K  charity run for water

Whenever children are called upon to sacrifice and save money for charity events, Ms Simiyu stated that the kids learn to be focused and have self-discipline. "This will help them manage finances. They also learn from an early age to invest their time and resources in things that matter or make a difference in people's lives."

"When you do good, you not only benefit others. You also get a sense of satisfaction, self-worth, peace and happiness that enables you to enjoy life."

According to Njoroge, charity work also teaches kids to be grateful and to value what they have. "If you don't expose them to the other side of life, then they will take what they have for granted. They will not work hard and may eventually end up being miserable in future."

Fridah Gakii who urged her 11-year-old daughter, also called Maya, to participate in the Global 6K charity run said that children should be encouraged to see what's out there in the world so they can learn that life is not always a bed of roses.

Fridah Gakii with her 11 year old daughter Maya after participating in the Global 6K Run for water.

"There are people struggling out there that need our help. So it's not always about us and the fun we have with other privileged people.  Children need to learn to give back to the community by getting involved is such worthy causes. They need to participate in a cause that is much bigger than them."