The world is tumultuous of late. Country against country. Everywhere it seems there is more chaos and violence directed at certain groups and disrespect for others.
Amid the turmoil, though, were the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. The Olympics are a time when nations come together to compete, to cheer for their athletes and to celebrate and embrace all cultures.
Athletes and fans tend to cross the proverbial aisle and root for other nations’ athletes, embrace the underdogs, rally behind the victors and value the prowess of those competing. Watching the news leading up to the Rio Olympics, and then the daily reports, the media portrayed Rio de Janeiro as polluted, swarming with Zika-infected mosquitos, criminals on every street and athletes corrupt at every turn.
Olympic venues were depicted as not ready for the competitions, and the Olympic Village uninhabitable. In essence, the media portrayed Rio as a cesspool of all that is wrong with the world.
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My 12-year-old daughter, Hana, and I recently returned from Rio and the Olympics. Hana had been selected as one of six kids from the U.S. to represent Ronald McDonald House Charities in the McDonald’s Olympics Kids Program at the Summer Games. Nearly 100, 8- to 12-year-olds from 20 nations participated in McDonald’s program with the opportunity to participate in the opening ceremony. These children each walked next to their assigned country’s flag bearer in the Parade of Nations, carrying one of seven endangered plants of Brazil.
Hana had the privilege of walking with the countries of Botswana and the Maldives. What does this have to do with the state of the world, Rio, the Olympics and the media’s portrayal of all of the above? Everything. The theme of this year’s McDonald’s Olympics Kids Program was the spirit of friendship. Friendship is foundational to respect and understanding, to forgiveness and acceptance. What better way to forge relationships?
Hana’s friendship partner was 9-year-old Darius from New Jersey. Hana and Darius live at Ronald McDonald House Cincinnati when they receive treatment at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Her other U.S. counterparts, also served by Ronald McDonald House Charities, were from Texas and Georgia. Other friendships forged were with children and parents from Canada, Indonesia, Brazil, Japan and China.
These kids are already texting, emailing, Skyping and calling one another, and they hope to visit in person in the future.
Friendship is so basic yet so necessary a cure, attacking the root causes, rather than a Band-Aid to mask symptoms of what’s wrong in our world. What a blessing to foster these friendships so early in life.
As for Rio and the Olympics, we loved our time in Brazil and can’t thank McDonald’s enough for giving us this adventure. The people were gracious and welcoming. The city was a cultural smorgasbord of delight that didn’t disappoint. The spirit of friendship, the most powerful elixir available to humankind, is foundational to counter all that is wrong with the world. We may not be able to “fix” our adults, but we can change the world with our children.
Heather Allen lives in Pleasant Hill, where she is a human factors engineer/experimental psychologist and a home-schooling mother of five.