We’re finishing up our time in Ecuador today. We’ve spent the past 3 weeks at Casa Victoria, volunteering with children in a low-income neighborhood in Quito.

I can’t wait to write more about our travels in Ecuador, but first I want to share about the kids we’ve worked with. They need encouragement, love, and a firm hand just like all other kids, but there are a few values they hold that I really appreciate.

In fact, I’ve noticed these trends among underprivileged children around the world. As a volunteer, I’ve spent time teaching children in Asia and Latin America– children who were not necessarily in crisis, but certainly came from low-income families. I’ve learned that their owning less, though often seen as a disadvantage, can yield some beautiful lessons.

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Lessons from Kids Who Live With Less

1) Generosity is not dependent on what you own.

Every time I’ve worked with kids overseas, they’ve shared little gifts with me. Sometimes a few pieces of fruit, or a handmade bracelet. Their generosity inspires me– giving out of abundance is one thing, but giving out of need is even more admirable.

2) You don’t need toys in order to have fun.

It’s amazing how creative the kids in these neighborhoods were. We Americans tell “horror” stories about how the Great Depression had children playing with oatmeal boxes and cardboard boxes. Rarely do we realize that this is still reality for many children. And while perhaps we’d like them to enjoy some more sophisticated toys, they’re not unhappy with what they’ve got.

3) School and teachers are awesome.

I’m about to say something controversial, so bear with me. Having worked as a tutor (both volunteer and paid) for years in the US, I feel that we educators often find ourselves begging kids to go to school. We beg them to do their homework, to work hard, and to graduate. Children who live with less, usually in other countries, seem to have a completely different attitude. They appreciate their teachers and even their homework. They recognize its value.

4) You help family members in need.

This is also a cultural thing, I believe. In less individualistic societies, the wellbeing of the family as a whole takes more priority. What this means for many kids is that they’re constantly thinking of their siblings. They will buy two pieces of candy instead of one, so that their little sister can have one too. Kids willingly work at their parents’ shops (much like they did a hundred years ago in the US) without complaint. It’s part of what it means to be family.

5) Food is not to be thrown away.

In the US, we collectively throw away a lot of food. In fact, the amount of food we lose or throw away in the US amounts to approximately $1 trillion (source). Just think of the last time a child didn’t finish what was on her plate and scraped it into the trash can. I see this happening much less among children who live with less. They finish their food, period. They rarely complain. They rarely ask for another option.

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Less doesn’t have to be the cure

I’m an advocate for simple living, but not necessarily for experiments in suffering. Instead, we should simply realize that many of us live with plenty. Perhaps we could want a little less and give a little more. Perhaps we can practice creativity with our resources instead of expecting money to solve our problems.

I’m indebted to the opportunities I’ve had to live and spend time with children who grew up with much less than I did. I’m grateful for the chance to share myself with them– to allow our worlds to collide so that we both leave a bit changed.

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