Posted by AVM

The biggest burden of being a parent, in my opinion, is leading by example.  It’s much easier to be a “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” parent than it is to actually be the good person you always meant to be, or the person you want your children to be.  I know I just HAVE to, but something gets lost in the translation when I’m running between daycare pick-up and meetings and buying groceries for the dinner I haven’t planned.  Is it enough to be kind to strangers and generous of heart with the people in your life?  I hope so, because from where I sit, that’s going to have to be enough for now (and let’s face it, when someone cuts me off in traffic or is generally rude to me, “kind to strangers and generous of heart” are the last phrases anyone would use to describe me).  When I was in high school and college, I volunteered for years at soup kitchens, with Big Brothers-Big Sisters, in nursing homes, in hospitals, you name it.  When did I lose that?  And without being that type of person these days, how will my children learn to give back and leave this world a better place than they found it? 

I had the great honor of hearing Greg Mortenson, acclaimed humanitarian and author of the best seller, Three Cups of Tea, speak recently.  Mortenson has dedicated his life, after a series of circumstances in his young adulthood, to founding schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan so that primarily girls who previously had no access to schooling will have the luxury that the rest of us in this country take for granted –  a free and accessible education.  He believes that it’s girls who bring change into this world – in his words, “When you educate a boy, you educate one man; when you educate a girl, you educate a family, you educate a village.” I like that.  Hundreds of schools have been established and thousands of young girls are being educated thanks to Mortenson’s efforts.  He lives a life of service to others.  He’s a hero.  He’s my hero. 

It’s no wonder he became the man he did.  Born in Minnesota, Mortenson spent his childhood being raised on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro where his father co-founded a medical center and his mother founded an international school.  With parents like that, you dream big.  You expect a lot of yourself.  You go forth and do good in the world.   I work as a fundraiser for a private girls’ school in one of the most affluent communities in the country, if not the world.  Each day, I drive to work passing homes that are easily 15, 20, 30 thousand square feet – estates, really, that could house villages of people.  In this environment, behind the tall hedges, limousines, and privilege, kids rarely have any sense of reality of what is going on in the outside world.  And, really, do any of us?  Sure, we watch the news, but what is it really like not to have food to feed your children?  What would life be like without the basics like shelter and clothing?  Where would you be if you hadn’t ever been given the opportunity to go to elementary school?  I don’t need to have a private jet to realize that my life and the lives of everyone I know – even people who are struggling – are a million times removed from those circumstances. 

When Mortenson arrived on our campus, he spoke to our students in each division – Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools.  When he was done with his talk (which was unbelievably moving) to our youngest students, four little girls, prompted by their teacher, approached the stage and gave Mortenson a little something by which to remember our school – a sweatshirt, a tote bag, a hat, and some other paraphernalia all emblazoned with the school logo.  Mortenson turned to the girls and said – and I will remember this until the day I die, “My mother always told me that I have to leave this world with less than I came into it with, so would you mind if I gave these gifts to a few students I know in Afghanistan who could really use a new shirt to stay warm in the evenings and a new bag to carry a book they just learned to read  and a new hat to shield the sun?”  I felt my throat tighten with tears.  I don’t know Greg Mortenson’s mother, but I want to formally thank her for raising a son who is such a selfless, giving soul, and for moving me to aspire to be one-tenth the woman and mother she is.