x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Travelling with Kids: Feeling the pain of poverty

When taking children to visit countries with huge amounts of poverty, some kind of emotional preparation might be necessary.

In the US in the 1970s there was a TV commercial showing a child and his father washing a car. The boy imitated his father's every move, from hosing the car down to soaping it up. At the end of their work, the father sat down and had a cigarette. The boy mimicked lighting up.

For better or for worse, children learn by observing. When I observe my daughter behaving badly it's like looking in a mirror. I know where she picked it up. I also know she's had a host of good models: her mother, her sister, her teachers, her priests.

Back home in Montreal, my wife and I ran a fair trade store at our church. We sold coffee, tea, chocolate, rice and spices once a month and Georgia was always there after mass filling orders and, afterward, counting money. She understood the fair trade concept: removing middlemen from the production-to-consumption process to raise the wages of growers, etc.

Here, in Abu Dhabi, Georgia attends a British-curriculum school where geography lessons involved learning not just physical geography but cultural and economic as well. She's learnt about the benefits of volcanic eruptions to agriculture and the best places to establish factories or amusement parks. Her teacher led the class in study of Kibera, the Nairobi slum.

School is now over for summer, but learning and observation don't end. This summer, we will travel to Cairo, where, we are quite aware, there remain pockets of unrest following the protests that led to the downfall of the president. Aside from possible dangers, there is poverty. It is a city of 17 million after all. On our itinerary is a visit to the City of the Dead, where thousands of Egyptians live in the tombs of ancient nobles. Here, we shall in all probability find several of the 40 per cent of Egyptians who live on $2 (Dh7) a day.

How will we deal with what Georgia sees?

Our trip to New Delhi in April 2010 might provide an answer. Poverty in India is a full-frontal assault. It is inescapable. At every intersection where our car or rickshaw stopped for a red light, we were surrounded by women in saris draped over pencil-thin frames carrying naked toddlers and miming with their right hands the act of eating. Georgia teared up seeing the poor women. (She's the type who gives to all the subway buskers.) We gave early on, though we soon realised that giving to one woman resulted in a flood of attention from others.

Later, driving through small villages that lined the road we saw thousands of people who, from not only a western perspective, could only be described as poor. But these people were working in shops and garages no bigger than a bedroom which, I suppose, in many cases did such double duty. Georgia had the fortune of observing two types of poverty on that trip.

Wherever her future travels take her, I know she will not suffer from the emotional poverty that makes the world's poor invisible.