For those of you with small children, I must say that for many years you have to “pay your dues” to Santa Clause before you’ll be able to try what I am about to suggest in this column. How well I remember those Christmases spent desperately trying to be Santa’s helper and fill those short, but numerous lists of Christmas wishes from our nine young children. While visions of shiny red train sets and actually feeding “Baby Alive with a spoon danced through Josh and Shawni’s heads, I was out there beating the pavement, trying to find a train in red and being horrified that, after a two hour wait in a line for Shawni’s Baby Alive, the mother just in front of me got the very last doll and I was going to have to tell Shawni that Baby Alive was dead!
One year Richard and I decided that we were just too saturated with “stuff” to pack in another load for Christmas. Although there were still a lot of things that the kids “desired”, we decided to propose something that we hoped they would desire even more.
At a family meeting in October, before they started thinking about what they might want for Christmas that year, we gave them a choice. They could have another Christmas, just like the others with the giving and receiving “stuff” that they would soon forget about OR we could buy each of them a ticket to Bolivia where we could do a service project for a little village on the Altiplano, in the Andes Mountains 14,000 feet above sea level. The project was to dig trenches for PVC pipe for water to run through from a cistern on the mountainside, already installed by another humanitarian group the year before. The goal would be to get water running through those pipes and into the village by New Year’s Eve. We told them it would be hard work with picks and shovels and that there would no Christmas presents for them…just the joy of bringing the gift of water to the people of a village that had never had running water in their village.
The older kids were delighted by the idea but our youngest, who was eleven had to think about it for a day or two. Giving up those wonderful gifts wasn’t easy, but she succumbed with the thought of sharing her Christmas with kids who were desperately in need.
At 5 a.m. on Christmas morning, we were picked up by a stretch limo with Santa at the wheel and his assistant elf making sure all the hoards of kids, their one allotted bag and tons of bags for the villagers were crammed into the allotted space and off we went to the airport for an adventure we would never forget!
I could write a book about our week with those incredible villagers. Several other American families were with us and we all immediately became fast friends. Some of the younger parents and children spoke Spanish but most of the villagers spoke an Indian dialect that only our leader could understand.. But we quickly learned that language is no barrier when it comes to kids communicating with kids. They had so much fun dancing together to the live Bolivian band that played at night and showing each other how to make crafts.
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The villagers worked side by side with us every day and directed the project. For a week we dug trenches in rock hard dirt with picks and shovels beside little grandmas who worked circles around us, even our big boys, because we were having a very difficult time breathing at 14,000 feet! The villagers were dubious about the plan to have water come down the mountain through the PVC pipe because some of the terrain was uphill and they couldn’t imagine that the water could make it to their village.
The American kids didn’t complain much about the “different” food which was well prepared especially for us and we were so grateful to have purified water provided for everyone, as well as the new latrines (squatters) that the village workers had also built especially for us. The carnival near the end of our expedition was a delight as we saw our kids enjoying the light in the eyes of the little Bolivian children as they went to the “fish pond” and other “booths” and were bedazzled by the balloons and stickers, construction paper and markers that we had brought from home for prizes.
But the real pay-day was on New Year’s Eve when with great ceremony, the village leaders turned on the first tap ever in their village to produce running water. The villagers were amazed and delighted but the looks on our kids’ faces were priceless!
For about the same amount of money we would have spent on another Christmas at home, or even taking the kids to Disneyland for a week, we had the wonderful blessing of changing the lives of these beautiful Bolivian people forever, which just also happened to change the lives of our own children forever as well!
Children should be at least 10 or 11 to go on one of these expeditions so if you’ve still got tiny ones, put it on the back shelf as a possibility for the future. But if your children are older and you too are sick of the “stuff” and materialism, make next year’s Christmas season new again (contact Ascendalliance.org for expedition schedules and countries) . It fills the Christmas season with a spectacular family memory as well as the true intent of the season as we celebrate the birth of the world’s greatest “humanitarian” Jesus Christ.