“These girls are from a Bluebird troop in Florida. They are our new friends. Each of you will write letters to and exchange pictures with the girl on your card,” she instructed.
I remember being so excited about the idea of writing to someone who lived far away. I didn’t realize that Florida was less than five hours down the road. To me it seemed like a far off enchanted land where Beverly probably swam in the ocean every morning and had dinner with Mickey, Minnie and Pluto on special occasions.
Children need the opportunity to connect in a positive way with children from other communities, cultures, and economic backgrounds. It helps them realize that not everyone lives the way they do and diversity is the spice of life. Affluent kids from green suburbs realize that not all kids have PlayStation's, laptops, cell phones, and pools in their back yards. They might learn that their new friend has only the necessities of life but is still optimistic and looking forward to the future.
Kids learn that underneath the cultural differences and language barriers they are all the same…they love to play, love to learn and long to be accepted. In years to come they will carry these lessons into adulthood and be more willing to see connectivity instead of polarization between people of all nations.
My generation is grown and we have children of their own. Our new crop of kids are Internet savvy and rarely pick up a pen for anything but schoolwork. Even so, there are still programs similar to the one Beverly and I were involved in. Now there is the added twist of cross-cultural friendships, cards for sick children sent by healthy children, and sponsorship/pen pal arrangements with children in poverty-stricken areas.
To look into this for a child you care about go to Youth on Line. They have a list of resources to find an appropriate pen pal situation for your child. My favorite, because of the impact and lessons learned, is Make a Child Smile, which allows you to send cards and letters to a featured child struggling with a chronic disease.
Another great way to help, learn and grow is CRIASNA Connection. This organization makes connections between children in the United States and at risk children in a fishing village in Brazil. They ask for sponsorship of one dollar a day for a year. The money goes to the child’s family to be used for household necessities or to pay school fees for secondary education. They hope to foster an environment where the new friends can meet each other and form life long relationships.
I’ll never forget my pen pal. I don’t know what happened to Beverly's letters but I can still see her big grin and remember the funny stories about her dog named Candy. Even though I never met her she will always be part of who I am.