23: The Gift of Giving

23: The Gift of Giving

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

The Gift of Giving

The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.

~Pierre Corneille

During Christmas vacation one year, my mom, my seven-year-old sister and I went on a two-week trip to India. I was really excited because I couldn’t wait to see all my cousins, aunts and uncles. The last time I had visited them was when I was only three years old. I also wanted to purchase souvenirs and outfits for myself, go sightseeing, see the Taj Mahal, ride elephants, and much more. I imagined India to be a beautiful place, with palm trees swaying in the air and humongous shopping malls. Before I left, I bragged to my friends about riding elephants and buying exotic jewelry.

But oh, was I wrong. The moment I stepped out of the airplane, the entire airport smelled like... I can’t even describe it, but let’s just say it was something you probably never smelled before. It was like a mix of body odor and exhaust. I couldn’t stand it! Plus, the airport was packed with people! I had never seen anything like it. People were shoving and pushing each other and yelling at the security guards. I thought I was dreaming. There was no way this could have been the India I had imagined. I couldn’t wait to get out of the airport. Maybe the city would look more like my India, I thought. By the time we collected our luggage, it was already one in the morning, so I didn’t really pay much attention on the ride to my grandma’s house.

A few days later, a lot of things happened. My Aunt Joyce and my thirteen-year-old cousin Michelle came to keep us company. Michelle, my sister Samantha, and I played games, made tie-dye pillowcases, and much more. Soon, I was ready to see the country; I wondered what adventures were in store for us.

“Mom?” I asked. “What are we going to do today? I really want to go shopping and buy some new outfits.”

“Stephanie, today we are going to one of the public schools in town. Remember the hundred-dollar bill Aunt Lila gave us before our trip? I decided that we are going to use the money to buy school supplies for the children there. And I am going to use an extra hundred dollars of my own to help the children,” Mom said.

“But I wanted to go shopping today! You said before our trip I could get some new clothes!” I whined. I did not want to spend my entire vacation helping the poor. What would I tell my friends when I got back from my trip?

“Stephanie, we can go shopping some other time. But we need to put a little time in helping these poor children. Now go tell your sister to get ready because we will be leaving in ten minutes,” said Mom.

“Oh all right,” I told her. Boy, what a vacation I was having. I came to India to go sightseeing, not do charity work.

Ten minutes later, we were on our way. The city was smoky and smelled like car exhaust. We didn’t even have our own rental car. We traveled in a rickety old rickshaw over the bumpy road.

When we arrived at the school, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The school looked like a dump. There was a lot of dust in the air and there was only one building, which looked as if it were a hundred years old. There was no playground, no parking lot, nothing. Just a big, brown, dusty, old building. Oh well, I thought. Maybe it was only an intermediate school. But I soon found out that this was an elementary school. It was so small; the school I went to back home was a million times bigger.

The classroom we arrived at was unbelievable. There were about forty students in the class and they looked so weak and malnourished. All the students stood up and said something to us in another language. Later, the teacher told us that they were welcoming us to their school. Their school backpacks were very small plastic bags, the kind you get after a trip from the grocery store. They had very few school supplies and most of the students had only one pencil. Can you even imagine writing with only one pencil for the entire school year? I probably wouldn’t even last a month. In addition, there were three students sitting at every desk. Just then, I felt like my heart was torn in half. That morning, I had felt like spending money on clothes and souvenirs, when these were the people who really needed the money.

I was amazed at what two hundred dollars could buy. Each student received a coloring book, crayons, two brand new pencils, and some candy. You should have seen the expressions on their faces as Samantha and I passed the supplies out to the children. They looked at us as if we were angels sent from heaven. Every child who received the supplies was so grateful for everything. Some of them started eating their candy and coloring in their coloring books right away. I was so happy about making the students smile that I felt like getting all my money and purchasing supplies for every classroom in the entire school.

I learned a very important lesson that day. Life isn’t always about receiving. When I first arrived in India, I was feeling sorry for myself. All I ever thought about was sightseeing and riding elephants. There are millions of people all over the world who don’t have enough food, and who are very ill. I think every human on earth should make it a point to do something for someone else. It could be something as simple as tutoring a student who is failing, as long as you do something. When it is our turn to die, nobody is going to ask us what car we owned, what degrees we got, or how many times we were in the newspaper. What will really matter is how much we gave to other people.

~Stephanie Downing

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