Helping Orphans (by Living Seven Days with “Nothing”)

There are an estimated 150 million AIDS orphans living in Africa who need support from those of us who have so much.  I hear that statistic, and my heart goes out to those who live a life that I could never even fathom for my own children, yet in the middle of the crock-pot-cooking, checkbook-balancing, coupon-clipping, story-telling life I lead each day

, how do I make time for the orphans?   

Meet “Seven Days of Nothing.”  This is a simple way that every family can afford to help (at least a little) with no extra strain on the family budget…and you’ll most likely find that this exercise will teach your children how to really value their comforts of life. 

The concept behind the Seven Days of Nothing experience is very simple. Forego as many of the things we take for granted as you and your family can, and for at least a week try to live as close as possible to the way most of the world does. Then take the money saved and contribute it to the Families for Orphans project or some other worthy cause.

To be most successful, the experience has to be tailored to your own family situation, of course. It also must be explained to children beforehand so they become willing and active participants. Many parents also find it helpful to decide as a family where the money saved will be contributed.

Here are some ideas:

-Forego running water for a week (to the extent possible).

-Wash clothes and dishes by hand. Of course, this experience is not just about saving money to contribute to a worthy cause. It is primarily about trying to experience to some small degree how most of the world lives.

-Use water (except for sanitation) only from containers that are only filled at the home of a neighbor or family member or some other location within walking distance and have the family carry that water home by hand.

-Give up renting movies.

-Live on basic food staples, such as plain rice or beans, oatmeal, etc. for a couple of days or the whole week.

-Prepare the food only over a fire or on a grill.

-Try eating just one meal a day for several days or the whole week.

-Eat only food that does not have to be refrigerated.

-Use only candles or lanterns after dark.

Each family can come up with more ideas on their own, but the important thing is to put the experience into context for children by discussing ahead of time that what they will be experiencing is how much of the world lives. For example, it will help them participate in the right spirit and get the most benefit from the experience if they know that in many developing countries families eat only one meal a day. Even those who are considered middle class often have only one meal a day.

Many homes don’t have electricity, and all food is cooked over a fire or wood stove. Even then, it is often too costly to burn fuel for cooking more than once a day or even more often then every couple of days. Sometimes a large pot of food is made one day a week and the family eats out of it until it is gone.

Even discussing these ideas with my children helped them to whine less about all the toys they “desperately” need.  I plan to go through this exercise every year or so with my family so we won’t ever get caught up with the “stuff” of life.  This is also a great way to see how prepared your family is for a natural disaster.  I hope you have a great experience with this!

(For more information, to share your story of how you implemented this in your own family, or to make a donation, please visit


  1. Allyson Reynolds says

    April, this is serious business! I don’t think I could do it for even a day so what does that say about me?? It’s an intriguing challenge I’ll have to mull over. Maybe a good time would be the week after Christmas . . .

  2. Emily says

    What a great idea!  We’re going to do this one week this summer.  I’m so tired of all the kids toys and how they never really put them back unless coerced.  We do go through and they ok what to donate to others that “don’t have many toys” a few times a year, but this will take it to the next level.  I think I’ll put all of them up and they can make things to entertain themselves that week.  I’ve also been building up a simple food storage supply and this would be a perfect way to try it out!

  3. April Perry says

    Maybe you could document your experience, Emily, and we could post some photos/quotations from your children here.  Then they could see that they’re not just going through it “for their own good,” but they could be helping inspire other families to appreciate what they have, as well.  Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *