Compassion by example in Ecuador

I want to lead by example with my daughter, so I started early. It started as early as our first vacation, with leaving her clothes and toys behind in the places we’d visit. As we normally travel to less fortunate areas, our small gifts are always appreciated. Children grow so fast that some things they never get to wear.  
Although I started leaving things behind when she was three months old, my daughter started understanding the process when she turned three years old. Right after her birthday and in preparation for our month long South America trip, I started taking Alessia shopping for gifts destined to the indigenous children in Ecuador and Peru. We don’t normally check any luggage in, as we’ve learned to be light packers, however for this trip, we filled a suitcase with crayons, candy, pens, toothbrushes and stickers for the kids. We made about 200 small packages for kids and we prepared them together. Throughout the whole process I explained to her how fortunate we are to live in a country where we could afford all of life’s basic necessities and that in many parts of the world kids do not have this luxury. Unsure if she understood or not, we finished wrapping our gifts and dragged ourselves and the large suitcase to the airport.  
We headed first to Otavalo to visit South America’s largest outdoor market. Indigenous communities from across South America showcase bright coloured crafts and intricately woven products. We purchased a few hand puppets, handmade hats and a beautifully designed blanket. Though it is customary to bargain, I feel that the vendors could use the money and I don’t bargain too much. The next day we headed up the mountain to a gorgeous lodge run by an American family who had moved to the area 25 years prior. It is a secluded farm with 6 individual houses that act as “rooms”. Our house is a 3 bedroom house where a family of 6 could easily live. The windows are large and a majestic mountain is gracing our view with its presence in front of our window. By the wood fireplace, we feel as though we’ve arrived in a small secluded paradise.  
The American husband and wife have a few horses, a couple of llamas, a wild raspberry patch and a few dogs. In addition, they have a separate house for a local indigenous family to live in. The family helps around the lodge and in return they get a house to live in and adequate wages for their help. We spoke Spanish to the family and they are happy with their situation and enjoy working for the American couple. They had four children whom Alessia played with. I asked Alessia to leave some of her toys and clothes for the kids and she gladly accepted.  
That same day we headed out to visit some of the waterfalls and local sights. My daughter surprised me along the way when she spotted a few children at play and said to me, “look mommy, kids, let’s give them gifts”. That very moment I felt so proud and I knew that even if I had failed in some ways raising her, if I’d be able to instill compassion in her, I knew I did something right. Almost in tears of happiness, I handed Alessia gifts which she gave to the children. Our entire day consisted of finding kids around and handing out gifts. We were so fulfilled with seeing their happy faces that for us, it was the greatest gift. Later in the day, at the lodge, I shared my enthusiasm with the owners who informed me there was a school nearby where they help out and where we could head to the next day and bring gifts.  
After a lovely fresh organic and wholesome meal, we slept to Andean music playing in our lodge living room. I love listening to Andean music while in South America but for some reason it never sounds the same outside of its milieu. The sun’s rays woke us up and after a delicious breakfast with the best fresh raspberry juice, we headed out to visit the local community school. The kind lodge owner joined us and introduced us to the kids. Dozens of kids surround us with smiles and happiness on their faces. We handed out our gifts with Alessia leading the way. My heart filled with gratitude, I took a moment and thanked the skies for this day.  At a school, surrounded by mountains, breathing fresh air, adorned by smiling faces, with my daughter actively involved in giving to others…that moment I felt complete. 
I am extremely thankful for being able to do small things like this around the world and even more thankful that everywhere we go, my daughter now initiates this giving, be it through telling me to leave the clothes or toys behind or asking me to give the children gifts. The 200-300 dollars this small gesture cost me, returned me smiley faces which I will treasure forever. I guess in trying to not be selfish and give to others, I am still selfish, as their happiness fills my heart. Alessia has never cried over a toy or a dress we’ve left behind and in fact she started using it to her advantage. At four years old when we go shopping and I tell her she doesn’t need something she tells me “but mommy, we can give it to the kids after” 🙂 Of course, with a smile on my face, I usually give in because she is right, we always leave a piece of us, and take a piece of them when we leave, and that is the greatest reward.  
We cannot have a better world if we do not lead by example and compassion is one of the most important traits we need to teach our children. My grandmother who lived in a village in rural Romania taught me compassion, by example. Regardless of how little she had, she always made sure her neighbours and those less fortunate had a share of everything she owned. Let love lead the way everywhere you go, and helping out first hand, in person, is the best way you can help, in any way you can. 

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