In our travels, we often see things that not only tug at our heartstrings, but cause a deep sense of despair. I prefer to tell the lighthearted stories of our adventures around the globe, but sometimes it is necessary to balance the picture.
When we first began working in Europe, we were cautioned not to interact with the women and children (Gypsies) who are commonly seen begging on the street. It was explained that if they talk to someone but fail to extract enough money, they will be punished by the equivalent of a pimp. I don’t know exactly how true that is, but after observation, I would say it seems very likely.
We were instructed that, for their safety as well as our own, we should avoid talking to them at all costs.
One afternoon we were sitting on the curb, eating ice cream cones, when I was approached by a woman with two toddlers. Without saying a word, I shook my head no, and she moved on. A minute later, my 5-year-old stuck her cone in my hand and said, “Hold this! I’m going to go tell her that we do speak English, and that you are just being mean!”
I sat her back down, and explained the situation to her and her 4-year-old brother. I watched as sad comprehension flooded their little faces. Daughter asked, “Can I at least give them my ice cream cone? They probably never have ice cream.”
A short time later, in another country, we were approached in a restaurant by a 4-year-old boy. I could see his mother and grandmother watching from the entrance, and a man standing nearby.
Soon, a 3-year-old girl and her 2-year-old brother stood at the end of our table, waiting expectantly. Their eyes were sincere, and their tiny bellies were hungry. Daughter asked, “Can we sneak them some French fries?”
As I contemplated the dilemma of hungry children being used as pawns, policemen made their way towards us. The children were removed from the premises, but not without an ugly fight. With tears in her eyes, my little girl pushed her food away and said, “I don’t feel hungry anymore.”
The next evening, I was walking with my teenage daughter. Darkness had settled, and the cobblestone streets were piled with trash awaiting the morning pickup. As we approached a closed bakery, I saw a woman tearing into the bags. She handed something to the small boy standing next to her. Big brown eyes glistening with excitement, he raised a stale, straight-from-the-trash croissant into the air so that we could see the treasure.
Last week, I was sleeping with the windows open in a Berlin apartment. At 4:30 a.m. I was awakened by a crying baby. I assumed the baby was in an apartment below, and the sound was floating up to our window. An hour later, I was awakened by the same crying, only louder and more desperate. For the rest of the night I was vaguely aware of the crying baby, and sent up sleepy prayers that he would find comfort from his mother.
At 7:30, the baby’s cries were uncontrollable. I looked out the window and thought it must be my imagination that made it sound as though the crying were coming from a nearby row of dumpsters. I dressed quickly so that I could investigate the situation. Glancing out the window, I saw a young boy lead a tiny little girl from a dumpster. She was still crying.
Police officers were arriving on the scene, so I waited to see how it would be handled. It was then that I noticed across the street were two gypsy mothers with a total of eight kids. The policemen told them to leave, and the little girl was scolded by her mother for crying ... for three hours ... alone ... inside a dumpster. The girl only cried louder, which resulted in more anger from the mother, but no one removed her from the situation.
I don’t know how to solve the problem of international hurting children, but I can do something about the children in my community. I would like to encourage you to do something too. Please, consider donating to your local food pantry, homeless shelter, or other organization geared toward helping the needy. Or get involved on a deeper level through advocacy. Typically, children suffer because of a selfish adult. I hope that many unselfish adults will step up and help balance the scales in favor of the children.
Ginger is an author, speaker and mother of five. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.