Nalini Joseph: We could learn gratitude from poorer places

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 7, 2021

One of the wonderful things about living in a third world country is the daily opportunity that children have to show kindness and charity to the poor.

Two-thirds of India’s 1.5 billion people live in poverty — that’s roughly three times the entire population of the United States living in poverty in a country that’s less than half the area of the USA. Of the Indian population, 68.8% lives on less than $2 a day. Obviously, abject poverty is an everyday sight — children are born on the sidewalks, live on the sidewalks and go through their entire life cycle on those same sidewalks. If they are lucky enough, school aged children attend school. School is not mandatory, and children are often forced into working in factories or in the local bazaar. Many take up the art of pick pocketing so that they can have a few rupees to spend on food for their family.

In 2019, 13.6 percent North Carolinians lived in poverty, with an income of just $25,750 for a family of four. After taxes, that’s roughly about $21,000 a year or $1,750 a month for the family of four. Parents may not be able to afford Air Jordans for the kids, but this is not an impossible existence, considering all the government assistance that is available. One can still afford an apartment, food, gas and even a television. This is upscale luxury living compared to over 2 billion people in this world — especially those living in sub-Saharan Africa and many parts of Asia. Our perspective may be a little skewed because America is the world’s richest country and we therefore expect a much higher standard of living for all. Our country is the most coveted place to emigrate to because we have a much higher standard of living than our “poorer” counterparts in the rest of the world, including the mighty China.

In America, we often have to “go looking” for poor people — under bridges, in homeless shelters, in soup kitchens or in Medicaid offices. Most of us try to stay away from those places, and when we see someone holding a “will work for food” sign up on a street corner, we are faced with the uncomfortable question of whether we reach into our wallet for a dollar or two or not.

Where are these children who have no socks or shoes, no food in their bellies, no parental supervision when they get off the school bus? We hear the phrase “food insecurity” but we don’t really know what that means. Unfortunately, we do have the poor — the abject poor, the working poor, and the generational poor — in America. Sadly, we also have growing numbers of poor who include those who are dealing with drug addiction, alcoholism, and sex trafficking — all the things we shelter our young from as much as possible. Those of us who are more fortunate, have a responsibility to give the poor a hand up.

Charity involves not just giving materially but giving of yourself emotionally and spiritually. Teaching your child to get involved in local projects that target our poor is a good way to teach your child about charity. We have many ways that we can get our children’s hearts involved in charity work: Rowan Helping Ministries is happy to have children and young adults work by stocking the pantry.

There are many organizations that allow youth to shadow their staff or volunteers as they work with the disenfranchised. I once asked an attorney who works for the Guardian ad Litem Program (a volunteer-based court advocacy program for abused and neglected children) to take my 9-year-old son to court with her. My son was rocketed into a different world in a matter of minutes. During breaks, he would ask questions like, “Why are they wearing torn clothes when they know they have to stand in front of the judge?” and “Why is everyone talking about who has to pay for the girl’s glasses?”

We talk a lot about gratitude in America. However, gratitude is taught; it must be experienced through understanding another person’s hardships. Allow your child to learn to be grateful for their many gifts by giving of themselves through charity.

Nalini Joseph is a resident of Salisbury. She is the proud mother of 10-year-old honor-roll student, Rohan Joseph, who serves his community as president of COVID Busters. Email her at