Empower Not Replace: A Reflection on International Day of Families

United Nations observes today as the International Day of Families, a day that provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues that families deal with. The hope is that we use it as an opportunity to learn more about the social, economic and demographic processes affecting them.

The most natural response to International Day of Families is a poignant reflection on your own family. And working at Food for the Hungry (FH) always asks me to consider the similarities that exist in families all over the globe, regardless of country, culture or socioeconomic status.

My own family is in a season of bustle. My wife and I are trying to form our kids through experiences. We want them to be well-rounded and learn valuable lessons through things like involvement in the local church or programs centered on music, sports, and art. We’re trying to be intentional with our time as it’s easy to be overcome with commitments and wear busy as a badge of honor. It feels like we’re driving around nonstop and trying to figure out how to fit it all in. Parents in western culture have different pressures, but in other world contexts, it’s more about foundational needs that we often take for granted.

However, when I consider families in the fields where FH works, things are more similar than they are different. While parents in the developing world are usually seeking to give their children access to education, health services, and clean water, the root is still the same.

We just want the best for our kids.

Some of the work I’m most proud of at FH is how we intentionally serve families. FH isn’t ever seeking to replace the parents or caretakers. Our work always strives to empower families to care for their own children.  They know the best way to do that, we just want to help and lift them up in that God-given role.

Nothing is more painful than not being able to provide for your kids. Helping parents in their efforts to seek the well-being of their own children is one of the most powerful ways we can end poverty in the hard places. Providing their children with clean water or sending them to school strengthens the family. Protecting their children from marriage and ensuring they have a healthy diet strengthens the family.

Helping parents and children dream about the future strengthens the family.

My very first trip with FH was to Peru. There we met a mother who, years before, wasn’t able to send her children to school. But thanks to FH’s work in her community, she rose to a leadership role and trained other mothers on health, nutrition, and hygiene topics. She was also helping families in her community overcome domestic violence and promote a peaceful home. While we were speaking, her oldest daughter came in and her face lit up. She promptly introduced us to her and doted on her, sharing how she’s number one in her class. She was excited because she was finally able to move past the place of caring for her daughter’s basic needs and on to a place where she could care about her future and the kind of person she’d grow up to be.

My hope is that all families across the world can come to the same place. A place where they no longer have to focus all their attention on surviving, but rather move towards helping their children thrive. Through experiences and lessons that mold and develop their character, families can hope for a bright future living in loving community with one another.