Published November 25, 2009
My large extended family loves Thanksgiving. We make travel arrangements months in advance in anticipation of my mom’s delicious homemade feast. Recently we’ve added a new tradition that begins with an e-mail to everyone who plans to gather around the table Thursday. The e-mail makes no mention of recipes but instead offers instructions and a challenge. It’s tied into a new holiday tradition in our family called Global Giving’s “Great American Sleep In.” This resembles a game, but has real consequences.
While writing the book "Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World" I discovered many ways families could engage with and explore the world – even if they couldn’t purchase plane tickets – and I developed a “toolbox” to help kids have fun and make sense of the world they are inheriting. At home, we decided to hold a "theme dinner" and watch a movie from India, Ireland or Iran, interspersed with our usual Disney classics; we adding dance tunes from Brazil, Sweden and Morocco to our favorite music playlists; we are now engaging in richer conversations at the dinner table and even keeping a globe handy in the kitchen. We’ve enjoyed these new traditions that not only have connected us with the larger world, but have brought us closer as a family.
Likewise, at Thanksgiving, when we usually play games like "Scattergories" or charades we considered an alternative. We asked, “what if we added a fun experience that also made a difference in the world?” It was then that we decided to make giving back a conscious component of our larger family gathering. I learned about so many great causes while writing "Growing Up Global," the biggest challenge seemed: “which one to choose?” Luckily I found a solution to this conundrum at GlobalGiving (www.globalgiving.org). This terrific organization operates like an Amazon.com or an eBay for charitable giving in the U.S. and overseas. You can “shop” for the cause that most appeals to you and get involved as much or as little as you wish. So how does it work?
Between the main meal and dessert at our Thanksgiving feast last year we divided the family into teams. Each team had a laptop and navigated the GlobalGiving.org Web site (if you're doing this with your family you can also play together around one computer). We allowed each group twenty minutes to come up with a team recommendation; then the entire group got to choose one charity from among these to support. Our family teams passionately debated the merits of providing lunches for students in Burkina Faso, or foster care for abandoned infants in the U.S. We were most challenged by having to decide on a single project -- the needs of the world seemed too big to narrow our choices down in such a short time, or ever. Finally, we decided on a program supporting girls’ education in Afghanistan.
For foodie families like ours, proposing anything new at Thanksgiving took some getting used to. Responses ranged from skepticism to curiosity, and eventually, enthusiasm. The youngest ones came the most prepared. They proudly shared money saved from allowances and the tooth fairy, ranging from 78 cents to $3.00.
The challenge spurred a family discussion around the question “Why care?” Conversations with my kindergartner influenced even the most cynical members of our family. We talked about how all the people of the world function like a human body. Our liver might not be aware of our little toe, but if you hurt your little toe and the pain doesn’t go away, the whole body suffers. Likewise, we can be affected by someone far away. Their hunger or lack of schooling might not seem connected to us, but eventually it is –whether in the form of a global financial crisis or the spread of anger that turns into terrorism. Here’s another way of thinking about it: if we truly believe that all people are one family, God’s children, then we wouldn’t want our family to suffer.
Our goal wasn’t to raise big money, $10 dollars here, $5 dollars there would suffice but over the course of the game something else happened -- wallets and checkbooks kept opening. For the rest of the evening and even into the New Year, our family's conversations returned to the GlobalGiving experience and the girls’ school in Afghanistan. This year we’re taking things a step further with the “Great American Sleep-In.” Instead of braving the mall traffic on Black Friday to acquire one more gadget or tie for dad, we think we might help to transform a life in his name, with a gift that gives back through GlobalGiving.
Our little interlude between turkey and dessert helped open our eyes to tremendous and complex needs. At the same time, we felt optimistic and empowered that great things are being made possible by good people all over the planet. Their causes helped to unite us, from age 5 to 93, around a common vision of hope and giving. And for this, my family is truly grateful.
Homa S. Tavangar is the author of "Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World," released Fall 2009 by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, and named a “Best New Parenting Book” from Scholastic Parent & Child. Visit her at www.growingupglobal.net. Join the “Great American Sleep In” at http://www.globalgiving.org/gifts-black-friday/