Road Crossers of the Week: The Students of UrbanPromise

Sometimes you don’t have to physically cross a road to cross a road—you cross with your heart.

In early December Ms. Baker—the principal of our elementary school—told a story about a 12 year old boy in Malawi, Africa named Harold. Harold attends an AfterSchool program in Lilongwe that UrbanPromise started a few years ago.

Ms. Baker shared how 12 year old Harold begins each day early in the morning. He puts on his few tattered clothes, gathers his water buckets and walks down a dirt road to a small well.

With rapt attention from the children, Ms. Baker continued to describe how Harold, then waters and tends to his grandfather’s small garden plot of land.  After finishing the hoeing, Harold leaves his village to collect firewood for cooking. Returning with his small bundle of sticks, he cooks breakfast for his four siblings, cleans up and begins his walk to school.

“Harold was an orphan because his parents died when he was only five months old.  Fortunately, his aunt took him in along with his little brothers and sisters—soon thereafter his aunt, who had been ill, died.  The children then had to stay with their 70 year old grandfather, who was, like most people in his village, decrepit and weak, and in no condition to care for them.  Harold became the primary care giver for a family of six—plus a few stray cousins.”

By the time Ms. Baker finished telling how it cost 82 cents a day to feed Harold and his brothers and sisters, the children were deeply moved and some wiped tears.

“What can we do to help Harold?” called out eight year old Josiah, frantically waving from the back of the auditorium. Another student chimed in, “Yea, Ms. Baker, we gotta help Harold!”

Principal Baker waved in front of the children an empty soda bottle. “Here’s an idea,” she said. “Let’s all bring our nickels, dimes and quarters tomorrow and fill this bottle—for Harold!”

The next day, Ms. Baker’s students showed up with pocket’s full of change. They plunked their pennies and dimes into their bottles.

Later that morning one parent stopped Ms. Baker in the hall and asked:  “Who’s this Harold person?”  Before Ms. Baker could respond the parent added, “All my son wants to do is help some boy named Harold—all my spare change is disappearing,” she said with pretend annoyance.

None of our UrbanPromise teachers and staff could have imagined what would happen next.

The seventh graders started to compete with the sixth graders and began bragging about who had collected the most change for Harold.  Other classes jumped in on the action. The children started counting their coins each morning, posting their new totals on chalk boards. Everyone loved the competition.

In the end our children raised over $600 dollars—more than the average Malawian makes in a year!

Many people picture inner city kids and teens as cold, tough, and indifferent. Many also believe that children in Camden are too poor to help others.

My experience is different.

The children of UrbanPromise let their hearts cross a road. This is how road crossing often begins—it begins by allowing our hearts to feel the pain of another person. And when our children felt Harold’s pain, they were compelled to act. Indifference was not an option. This is what happens when we dare to cross roads.

In January I had the chance to travel to Malawi to visit Harold. I visited his hut. I listened to his story. I got to see his school. Most importantly I was able to report back, first hand, to the children of UrbanPromise how their generosity made a difference for Harold.

But Harold is not the only person changed through this road crossing event. A group of children from Camden now have a friend in Malawi. They have become bigger people. Their hearts and world is larger. No longer do our students only see their own needs.

This is the fruit of crossing the road.