I am most definitely not a saint! I’m a regular mom, wife, writer and woman. Like many indies, I have become intimate with swag – for events, promotion and because it is just so awesome! Yesterday, I watched something on TV that led to some serious introspection and so I decided that instead of doing a monthly swag giveaway for my fan club, I’d do something for charity. It took about an hour of internet searching and a couple of phone calls to find a few worthy causes. Some wanted donations and I did that but I did not only want to donate. I wanted for my girls and I to take the time to get what was needed and deliver it in person. I have many reasons – it’s a religious month of charity, in South Africa we celebrate Nelson Mandela’s birthday by ‘giving back’ (it was his 95th birthday yesterday), and I wanted my girls to learn some valuable lessons. I do my bit for charity – I donate money or ebooks, share and promote Facebook Charity Events and give away things I no longer need to others who do. But, I no longer get actively involved in charity work – not since I attended university. It was time to change that.
And so, I went on a journey of self-discovery that I believe I’m so much better for. Indie writers often speak of ‘Indie Karma’ but when we do; we refer to helping each other out or supporting the newest, big cause. The causes indie writers support have been worthy and we’ve done fantastic work in raising money. Today I found that ‘Indie Karma’ has a place in my backyard too!
And so I found myself rushing out of the house because I was running late – I just had to hit publish on KDP first. Fortunately, I managed to shop with my two kids in tow and get a store assistant to push the additional shopping cart to my car. Then came crunch time and I was so nervous, my hands were clammy. After getting lost a few times, I navigated the car down a steep, muddy hill. The building was as expected – clean, sparse and in need of a fresh coat of paint. The girls I met were not what I expected. I’d been nervous to meet them but I pushed on because I wanted my daughters to experience the joy of giving and to see how fortunate they were. I’d known the basics – they were all young, teen runaways who had been raped. It’s weird, even having counseled rape victims and with my background in psychology, I was nervous. I didn’t want to inadvertently upset these girls or come across as some condescending jackass donating with smugness. Goodness knows, I’m no ‘Daddy Warbucks’. So, I did what came naturally – I focused on logistics and getting the goods from the car to the house.
The house was tiny. They’d converted what was the original lounge into a communal bedroom. In it were six beds and a single, tiny cupboard. Of course, I realized as soon as I noted it, that runaways don’t travel with suitcases. The place was spotless but furnished with the very basic of necessities. There was no TV, no computer, no posters (those who have teenagers know how strange that is – no Bieber, no 1D adorning the walls – the only décor I could detect were three ratty teddy bears perched against a threadbare pillow on one of the beds. Awkwardness began to engulf me. I felt sorry for them. Here I was, a happily married woman with a holiday house and kids that attend a private school and get almost everything they want. The girls at the shelter have so little; my heart aches to think of it. The harsh reality is that they ran away because those who should have taken care of them hurt them instead.
Glancing at my kids to make sure they were behaving, I followed the troop of girls to the kitchen. If the room was sparsely furnished, the kitchen was even more so. The most notable thing in the kitchen was a baker’s tray of bread. It was filled with packets of what looked like bread that was day’s old, as though a number of people drop the leftover bits off at the house.
It’s not that easy to act casually when these images are thrown at you. You’re supposed to feel shock and empathy. But I couldn’t show my hosts these emotions – it would be tacky and unkind. Once again, I took refuge in managing logistics. It was easy to unpack the goods and hand it out but I was ever cognizant of doing so with humility. I think I managed to do that though because I watched their reactions closely and they remained friendly. Once that task was complete, I was again awkward. These things don’t come with manuals, so what the heck was I supposed to do next? It seemed as though they were waiting for me to say something. I decided to go with my gut. I found myself thanking them for the opportunity to allow me to give them food, toiletries and some treats. I was honest and told them that I did it because I needed to – because I could; and because my kids needed to know how lucky they were. I nearly cried doing this because here I was giving them basics like toothbrushes and they seemed so grateful. Afterwards, I was ready for a quick escape. My humanity, thankfully, didn’t allow it, and so I turned back and began speaking to the girls, joking with them. I started to relax around them. I no longer saw them as rape victims but as a group of young, giggling girls with the spirit to survive. My daughters were chattering comfortably with them, completely unaffected by the issues I had had because children have so much less baggage and fears to color their interactions. I wanted to teach my daughters a lesson and to give back to the girls at the shelter and ended up learning more and receiving the most. In that instant, it became less about me and my insecurities and need to teach my daughters, and more about them. I got to know a bit about who they are and connected with them. If I hadn’t, I would indeed have been nothing more than a smug donor of goods. Oh, the irony!
In the end, we had a great time and we’re going back this Sunday. My girls have decided to raid their ample toy closet and have made up parcels for the girls. I’m going to buy cake, ice-cream, sodas and a huge bucket of KFC so my kids can play with the girls at the shelter. And, this time, I can’t wait!
Thanks to the members of my fan club for agreeing to my idea of ‘charity instead of swag’. I’ve discovered that charity is the best swag ever!