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Operation Rice Bowl

About this article

This is a thorough lesson plan based on Catholic Relief Service's Operation Rice Bowl from the October 2001 issue of Connect.

Kenyan communities view the birth of a child as a source of blessing for the entire community. I sense that our culture has some things to learn from African peoples about the need for the community to support its children. This idea can be challenging for our students--and our culture--to appreciate; while we stress family values, we do not always appreciate the family's need for societal support. The objective of this lesson is for students to reflect on children as God-given gifts, in need of supportive communities, and with the potential to bless those communities in life-giving ways.

  1. Open the lesson with a matching game conducted in small groups or spelling-bee style with the entire class. Display a variety of seeds, along with pictures of the flowers, plants, or trees that the seeds will become. (Two or three students could be assigned ahead of time to design the game for the class.) When the game is over, point out how different the seeds are from the flowers, plants, and trees, recognizing that such growth is amazing to think about, but it is not guaranteed; it requires a supportive environment. Ask the students, in pairs, to quickly brainstorm the characteristics of an environment that supports the growth of seeds, and briefly share answers in the large group.
  2. Next display or pass around pictures of young children. (The more multicultural and multinational the pictures, the better.) Give the students a minute to look quietly at the pictures. Then suggest that in some ways children are like seeds: They have tremen-dous potential for growth, and they need a supportive environment in order to grow.

  3. As a large group, brainstorm characteristics of an environment that supports the growth of children. List them on the board, encouraging students to be expansive in their thinking.

  4. Display the African proverb, It takes a village to raise a child. Invite comments on its meaning. Review the brainstorming list, and identify the items that require support beyond that of a person's nuclear family.

  5. Ask each small group to imagine that they are advocates for children in one of these situations:
    • living in poverty in American cities
    • living in refugee camps in developing nations
    • living in affluent American homes with two working parents
    • living outside the home because parents or guardians are abusive
    • living with physical or mental challenges

  6. Allow the groups about five minutes to discuss these questions:
    • Which items on the list do you think are most critical for the children you represent?
    • As advocates, what would you ask of the wider global community?
    • Which of these solutions would you want to be part of yourself?

  7. Invite small groups to share their ideas. Note: In the course of the discussion, students may raise issues such as child abuse, abortion, or poverty. Encourage them to see that while individual parents make choices that lead to these situations, the absence of wider societal support is also a factor. Remind the students of the African proverb, and explore wider issues, such as jobs with inadequate wages and benefits, and a lack of adequate housing, health care, and child care. Students may also raise questions about whether people who live in poverty, especially in developing nations, are having too many children. Such questions can generate a lesson themselves--but whatever time you choose to spend on an individual lesson, be sure to communicate these two key points:
    • There are enough resources in the world to meet everyone's needs (though not everyone's wants). The problem is one of maldistribution and overconsumption.
    • A deep love for children is a feature of many traditional cultures. When everyone who cares deeply for children receives the support they need, those children--and our world--will benefit greatly.

  8. Offer the following perspectives:
    • Like seeds that need good soil, children need an environment that supports growth. If the community views children as a blessing and is willing to embrace and support them, the children will flourish.
    • Think about what the plants we discussed earlier can offer: food, shade, shelter, beauty. In the same way, children can become a blessing for their community.
    • The story of Jesus' birth illustrates that point. In Jesus, God came not as a mighty military ruler with an army but as a child. Recall the people in the Gospel narratives who saw Jesus' birth as a blessing: his parents, Elizabeth, the shepherds, the Magi, Anna, Zechariah. As a Jewish child, Jesus had the support of a community that cared about him; when he became an adult, he blessed the members of his community by revealing God to them--and to all of us.
    • (Refer to the pictures of children.) Certainly we need to think responsibly about whether we can meet the many needs of children before we create them. But Christian faith clearly states that children are blessings--that families and communities that welcome and support children will be blessed and improved by them.
    • (Point to the African proverb.) It takes a village--actually a global village--to raise children.
  9. Brainstorm ways to offer support to children at home, in your neighborhood, in your school, or at your church.
  10. Post a list of names and phone numbers of organizations that work with children in the local community.
  11. Encourage students to research global relief organizations.
  12. Pray for children.

  13. Say a closing prayer. Invite students to look again at the pictures of children. Offer a prayer for children and for our own and our community's supportive response to them as sources of blessing.


Copyright © 2009 Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this article to be freely used for classroom or campus ministry purposes; however, it may not be republished in any form without the explicit permission of Saint Mary's Press. For more resources to support your ministry, call 800-533-8095 or visit our Web site at www.smp.org.

Published October 15, 2001.