There are few things more important for a child to learn than empathy. Yet children don't attend school classes in empathy, and they don't become compassionate because that's what we tell them to be. Rather, they pick up empathy from our actions.
In Nicholas's case, he developed his interest in global poverty perhaps in part because his parents always sponsored a child through Plan USA, exchanging letters and sometimes visits, and always encouraged him to "trick or treat for UNICEF." We have likewise tried to model behavior that will encourage our three kids to think of others around the world who have needs that the average American child can barely imagine.
We too sponsor a child through Plan USA (our current sponsored child is in the Dominican Republic). Nick's parents regularly send our kids Christmas gifts through Heifer International, such as a few chickens presented to an African family in each of their names.
We also used the advance from our new book, Half the Sky, to build a middle school in a Cambodian village that never had one before. Then we traveled as a family to Cambodia over the last Christmas vacation for the school opening, with each of our kids speaking at the ceremony.
Whenever we can, we also have taken our kids to see how others sometimes must live, so that they connect the idea of poverty to real people—just like them—that they have actually met. Once they have attached a face to hunger or homelessness, it becomes much more real. Indeed, because of our jobs as journalists, we've taken the kids into unusual situations—interviewing underground Christians in China who had been arrested and tortured, North Korean children in hiding, Kenyans brutalized during ethnic riots and Sudanese children suffering from diseases and parasites because they have the misfortune to live in an impoverished country. Few parents have the chance to expose their children to these sights directly, and not every parent would want to, but indirect exposure through books and films is possible for anyone. And in our experience, children aren't traumatized by these encounters but awakened.