Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I didn't want to read this book! 4 stars ****

As the title of my review makes clear, I really didn't want to read this book. It showed up at my door, unsolicited, and I groaned inwardly when I looked at the cover. I just knew this was going to be one of those books where the author has a life-changing experience about world poverty and tries to make everyone with a middle class American life feel all guilty about it.

Even though I didn't want to read this book, I decided to read the cover blurb and look at the pictures. Then I read the first couple chapters and skimmed around the rest of the book. As I skimmed, I realized the author wasn't putting out holier-than-thou attitude -- in fact he made fun of himself a lot. The more I skimmed, the more interested I was, so I went back to the beginning and started reading. I barely put it down all that weekend.

In part this is a story about a family that suffered the loss of a child and took a break from their regular lives to be dorm parents in a boarding school in Kenya for the children of missionaries and then decided to stay at the school long term. In part this is a story about Kenya, with descriptions of the land and the people, including both the good and the bad. And in part this is a story about how small things can add up to big changes.

The author's choice to include amusing daily life stories, such as the boys in his dorm wanting to have the stinkiest room and self-deprecating stories about his struggles with the language, keep this book from becoming preachy or holier than thou. You have to laugh along with someone who can laugh at himself. Those stories provide much-needed breaks from the description of poverty on a scale no one in the USA can imagine and children so hungry they have to lie down in school.

The main point of the book -- and the reason the lighter anecdotes are important to keep the reader captivated -- is poverty and hunger. It's such a big issue that most of us end up feeling helpless to do anything about it. The author started small -- he had a plan to provide lunch for one or two nearby Kenyan public schools so the children would stay in school, get an education and have a better chance for the future. Over time his organization, Kenya Kids Can, grew to provide daily lunches for 20,000 children in 35 schools and built 20 solar-powered computer centers at schools.

By the end of the book, I didn't feel guilty. I felt hopeful. Little things we can do can make a big difference in Africa and around the world. In addition to the author's organization, there are local and national charities that are involved in We can In my home state of Minnesota there is an organization called Feed My Starving Children that uses volunteers to pack food that costs 22 cents per meal and is sent all around the world. World Vision is a larger global relief organization. And there are plenty more.

We don't all have to go to Africa (for which I am thankful as I'd be a terrible missionary). Anyone can do small things -- give up a latte once a week (or even just once) and donate the money. Kids could have a lemonade stand and send the money to feed children around the world. The last couple years I have walked a half marathon to raise money for World Vision but was not planning to do it again this summer. But after reading this book, I decided this was one thing I could do to help.

I really didn't want to read this book, but I'm glad I did.

Disclosure: I received an unsolicited free copy of this book from the publisher in hopes that I would write a review. My opinions are my own.