To look at them, you’d think the Moutons were a typical family from the Chicago suburbs—a couple with two young kids and a minivan. But this is a family with the mission to promote humanism far beyond their working-class bedroom community.
Deanie and Mario Mouton discovered humanism together and are raising their daughters, Lylah and Violet, as humanists. One of the most valuable lessons they’ve taught their daughters is that individuals, even very young ones, can make a real difference in other people’s lives.
It all started several years ago while Deanie and Lylah were shopping at the mall during the holiday season and came upon a Salvation Army tree in the mall courtyard. Lylah, who was five years old at the time, asked what the presents were for. Her mother explained that not every parent could afford Christmas presents, and this was a place to leave presents for kids so that they could receive something. Lylah immediately asked her mother if she could get a toy for the tree. Lylah was very proud of that, so her parents challenged her to save her money all year and promised to match whatever amount she saved for charity.
At age six Lylah saved $200, which her parents doubled, and she then went to a department store and bought presents to donate to Toys-for-Tots. She and her parents did the same thing the following year, but when they arrived at the donation center while toys were being off-loaded and organized, the Moutons realized that this organization was well-funded and they decided to look for another way to help as many people as possible.
They wondered what they could do to create more of an impact and realized that there are areas of the world where teaching humanist values would accomplish just that. From there, they discovered a growing movement in Africa to establish humanist schools in small communities. They started focusing on Uganda.
Why Uganda? And why focus on humanist schools? These are questions that are asked of the Mouton family all the time. The short answer is “Why not?” The longer answer is that they felt establishing an educational foundation in a part of the world where nonsectarian groups are underserved was important. And they connected with a group of Ugandan humanists through the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, kindred spirits who had a clear idea of what would make the most impact with the little money they had to work with. The Moutons knew they wanted to support a school or an orphanage, and they knew they wanted to find one that did not discriminate against religion, gender, or life choices. The sheer surprise that a humanist community was thriving in Uganda, coupled with the fact they were building schools, was enough to know that this was something that they wanted to be a part of. And so KidsHeartKids, inspired by Lylah Mouton, was born.
Now Lylah was seven, and she saved her money with the ambition of sponsoring one female student’s secondary (high school) education. The cost was $800 to cover four years for one child. Lylah’s parents set up the KidsHeartKids (KHK) website to help their daughter raise money on top of her own savings. After the first year was over, they had raised and saved enough to pay for two girls to attend school for four years, provide quality art supplies to a school, fund the maintenance and feeding of an already existing poultry project, and send scholastic items to the schools.
They also started a pen-pal program that has so far connected fifty-four Ugandan students with kids in the United States. This program has been a successful cultural exchange that not only enriches each young person’s understanding of life in both countries, but also helps the children with letter-writing skills.
Since establishing KidsHeartKids, Deanie and Mario have taken time off from their jobs, bundled the whole family into the minivan, and hit the road to promote KHK at various freethinker’s conferences throughout the Midwest. They pay for exhibitor’s tables out of their own pockets and sell humanist books, with all profits going to Ugandan schools. The books (also featured on the KidsHeartKids website) are often autographed by authors who would appeal to the secular humanist community—Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, Michio Kaku, Michael Shermer, and Jerry DeWitt, to name a few. The Moutons obtain them by traveling to lectures and book signings, as well as buying pre-order signed books from stores. They consider the purchase of the books as well as the travel expenses to get them signed as a donation to the cause. As a personal bonus, it gives them more reasons to go to science lectures and affords them the opportunity to meet others in the humanist community who share many of the same values. Deanie paints and sells her works as well, all to promote their young daughter’s philanthropy.
In 2014 KidsHeartKids made contact with Humanist Empowerment of Livelihoods Uganda (HELU) which helps at-risk mothers who face steep challenges to be able to provide for their children. KHK is working to raise funds to build a small classroom for the children of the mothers in the program so that the kids can get a basic preschool education to prepare them for further schooling in the future. This project is proving to be a difficult one to raise funds for, but the family is dedicated to making every project a success, even if they fund it entirely themselves. The Moutons have also begun placing humanist books, such as the works of Corliss Lamont, at military bases in Africa. They see this as an adjunct to promoting humanism in places far from home.
If you value giving for the better of humanity, you may also feel there are few places where a small amount of money can have a true impact on someone’s life and the lives of the next generation, places where children can be empowered through education and even grow up to argue diligently against unjust conditions and draconian laws. Young Lylah Mouton and her family want to help you find those places and empower those children.