A dozen years ago we hosted a child from Northern Ireland for the summer. We had received a small inheritance from the weaver's brother and, knowing how much he enjoyed children, we thought it best to make some child happier. Darren was from a housing project just outside of Belfast, a curly-haired child with a crooked grin. He spent the flight over throwing up, and was ill in the car coming back from the airport. He slept for twelve hours and when he awoke he began the process of integrating into our middle-class, suburban existence. It was a bit of a leap. He had, in some respects led a sheltered existence - little in the way of culture, no real interests or hobbies. In other ways he was much more experienced than our boys - in minor hooliganism, hanging out with rough types, and things we were glad he didn't explain too thoroughly. When we spent time at a lake with relatives, he seemed to finally relax a bit. It always seemed that he was a bit of a sad boy, on the verge of adolescence and already with a sense of his limited future. We were all sad went he went back, but after a few letters we lost touch.
Looking back on the experience, I am struck by the fact that many children around the world have much worse childhoods than Darren's. That the political situation in Northern Ireland has gotten only a little better, if at all. That two religions, with the same basic beliefs, have continued to wreak havoc on generations of innocents.
Did what we did that summer help at all? These programs continue, and for the children involved, I'm sure it is a high point in their lives. But it leaves me with some doubts. Our family was not a replacement for his broken one. Our civilization and culture is only different, not really any better. I don't have any answers. Anyone who has children can only do their best in rearing them; hoping that the next generation can gain from that experience.