Sasha Gigliesi was nominated as a Marvelous Mom for involving her children through different charity projects throughout their childhood. She has four children; two who are adults in the US (Ury, married with children, and Jonah, at college), but two who remain at home in China (Noah, 16, and Nayo, turning 14). Though Gigliesi is religious, her desire to help others and inspire her children to help others is based on a life of examples and gratitude. Her parents were foreign experts to China in the 1960s. “They came to China for China, and my brother and I grew up seeing that as an example.” Though most basic necessities were provided for as foreign expats lived together in a communal area, what struck Gigliesi about her parents was their service-type life.
A simple example she gave us was when her mother would come back from a trip to Italy, she would bring back a big block of cheese. Gigliesi pointed out since the nutrition in cheese was scare, as a mother, most would have thought to save it for their children. “I was an older child before I saw milk for the first time.” But instead, her parents invited everyone over. “I remember seeing the cheese at one party shrink and shrink, and I thought, ‘Oh no! We’re not going to have any cheese left!’” So when she and her children give, it’s based on the giving nature she has seen, “what [one has]been raised to do.”
She encourages her four children to serve others based on the appreciation of being blessed with so much. She’s thankful for having healthy children, and as expats, they have plenty. “I don’t want them to believe that they’re elite and that no one else exists.”
One issue that is hard to contend with is the beggar situation. “I could be there in the same situation. When we see beggars, I tell my children that we have no right to judge. We don’t know if the need is real or not, and what would we want if we were in the same situation.”
When her children were younger, she would stop and give, but the tables turned when she started having a faster paced life. “Nayo stopped me and walked over to a beggar once when I was too busy, telling me, let’s stop and help.”
Gigliesi was modest and felt almost embarrassed to talk about what they did as a family and what she did as a mom because she felt these were responsibilities just in being a good neighbor. “Sun Village, a home for children of convicts, is just in our neighborhood, and we help provide what they need.”
The Mammolina Children’s Home-Model Montessori Kindergarten, where Gigliesi is cofounder and director, takes in orphans’ tuition free based on classroom size and availability. Her children would help with assistance while they were at the school also, and at one point, the family fostered a child in their home before a family in the US adopted him. “He and Nayo were the same age, so [for her]it was just like having a brother. They would play together, go to school together, and eat together.”
Gigliesi chose to do these things with her children because she often feels she doesn’t spend enough time with them. “I don’t necessarily believe in quality time, I feel it’s just important that you spend time with your children. But it’s hard when parents work.” Gigliesi herself would go to Sun Village to help train the teachers, and her children would come to assist directly or in other ways. She and Nayo also recently made bedsheets for the orphanage.
To get her children involved, she simply would let them know they were needed. “Maybe children would rather play with friends, but when kids feel they’re needed and then they start to work with the children, they really feel good about the time.”
As her children got older, their projects took on more maturity, complexity, and independence. “Nayo is really into making balloons, and she learned how to make elaborate pieces. She really enjoyed going and making these for the children, to see their smiles on their faces.” Giglesi’s sons, on the other hand, helped paint the walls of the orphanage when needed, and later raised money for a project where they went to the south of China to paint walls, covering the cost of the paint and travel themselves. “I didn’t give them money for these projects. They need to know that when they’re serving, there’s a cost, and they need to do it themselves.”
When asked about charity and community service with her mom, Nayo described it as an activity that makes her happy. “There’s nothing more fun than doing service because I love seeing the smile on people’s faces.”
Photos courtesy of SASHA GIGLIESI
This is an updated version of the article that originally appeared on p. 42-43 of beijingkids March Issue. Download the digital copy here.