“Choose the smallest numbers” - 5th Grade Math & The Orphan Crisis
I hate math. My clearest (and most traumatic) memory of high school math is my two-years-younger-but-one-year-ahead-in-math brother helping me with my algebra homework while I cried on my bedroom floor. I struggled and miscalculated my way to a B(ish) in algebra and geometry, but never even attempted trigonometry or that one that sort of sounds like calculator but isn’t. If you offered me a million dollars to calculate the number one million using trig or that-calculator-one, I would curl up on my bedroom floor and cry ala high school.
The problem is that I peaked in fifth grade. My teacher did these drills practicing “mind math” where you had to + - x % a string of numbers in your head as quickly as possible. I rocked these drills. I shouted out answers and felt superior and loved math and life. In fifth grade, I thought I was a math genius. Sixth grade is a killer of dreams (ego).
Despite my inability to even define trigonometry (though I have a vague suspicion it has something to do with triangles), I have not lost this math-drill-skill. When I go to a restaurant with my friends, they hand me the check, and I quickly and accurately calculate the food+tip+tax for everyone. In a store, I can compute every item on the clearance rack in seconds. I truly am smarter than a fifth grader.
Here are some numbers that a simple mind like mine can’t grasp.
There are 153,000,000 orphans in the world, 18,000,000 who have lost both parents. Every day 5,769 children become orphans. Every year 14,500,000 children age out their country/state’s orphan care system. Of the 14,500,000 who age out, 4,200,000 of the young women will become prostitutes and 4,900,000 of the young men will end up in prison. 400,000,000 abandoned children live on their own. 1,200,000 children are trafficked each year globally.
If you read these numbers anything like the way I typed them, you just glossed over all the zeros and saw the precise number of “it’s a really big problem.” These kinds of numbers are just too much to even process. These kinds of numbers are overwhelming, impenetrable. My 11-year-old-math-mind doesn’t know what to do with all these zeros.
Thankfully, my primary-school-math-drill-skill comes in clutch here.
A few minutes of fifth grade calculations and the numbers are quite easily reconciled. American family units are equal to nearly all of the orphans in the entire world. American family units outnumber foster children 1,075 to 1. American Christians outnumber orphans 13 to 1. American churches outnumber foster children 3 to 1. Average Americans live on 70 times the amount of money the average orphan lives on. When you look at it like this, the numbers aren’t overwhelming in the least. In fact, it’s almost shocking there’s a “crisis” at all.
I recently read an article about advocacy that recommended when you share stats you should “choose the smallest numbers.” No matter your math prowess, none of us do well absorbing all the zeros. We shouldn’t focus on the millions, we should focus on the "ones."
So, you, one person reading this one article: There is one child lying in bed in your town who went to sleep without care, without protection. There is one couple in need of funds to bring their one child home through adoption. There is one single mother in a remote village struggling to provide for her one child. There is one foster mom in your church needing prayer and encouragement and help. There is one child in an orphanage across the world who’s never known the love of a parent. We’re not talking numbers any more. Now we’re talking people.
For the vast number of needs that need to be filled, we each have our own numbers we bring to the table: the hours in our days, the beds in our homes, the dollars in our bank accounts. And most of all, the one number we all have: this one life given to each of us to live for The One and the ones he so loves.
(All numbers are estimates, change on a second-by-second basis, and were pulled from UNICEF & UN reports. The fifth-grade solutions were done in my head, using my math-drill superpower.)