Who are the “Children Under the Bridge”?
(The following words are a reflection from my recent trip to visit “Jane” and the Children Under the Bridge)
Walking the streets….
Crossing a bridge into a world of despair, poverty, and simple economics. I didn’t know what to expect and nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered. Between the railroad tracks and the stinking, polluted river, there is a concrete buffer. This is where they live. This is where they play. This is where they exist. Invisible to most of the world and even their own government.
Looking around I saw one and two room make shift homes stacked one right next to another. Each vying for space. I saw a polluted river so dirty you could taste the smell of it. Children along the polluted river bank collecting garbage to recycle and earn their keep. Men and women scraping off labels of plastic pudding containers and empty water bottles and filling large bags to take to the recycling plant, hoping it will be enough to buy enough food to feed their families.
I saw rooms, the cleanest ones, that were set up for “work”. This is where the women sell their dignity, their soul, for a little over a dollar; day after day. They work to pay off the debt they owe from money they borrowed to feed their children. Their children know what they do.
I see smiling faces and hear laughter as the children run to meet my host and me. The children call out “Mister! Hello Mister!” as they take my hand and touch their cheek or their forehead showing me a sign of respect. I ask myself, “Who am I that I should warrant their respect? I’ve just showed up.”
My host begins to pass out the bracelets my daughter made for the children. The joy on their faces as they receive the simple gift. As I kneel to tie the bracelet onto the small fragile wrist of a little girl she smiles at me and my eyes meet hers. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Among all this despair I saw in her eyes simple innocence. I could hardly keep my composure knowing that one day her innocence would be destroyed as she would be forced to sell herself to a stranger to pay back a debt; a debt of a few hundred dollars. Our brief encounter ended as quickly as it started as calls of “Mister! Mister!” and hands reaching out to me with requests to tie their bracelets; as she faded into the crowd.
My host and I continued visiting the people and the children under the bridge. I continued to experience firsthand the constant juxtaposition between hope and despair. One woman took my hand and said in English, “Thank you Mister.” I asked my host to ask her why she was thanking me. She said it was because I came to see them and I was there to help. I was speechless. Help!? I thought. How am I helping? By giving out bracelets to your children. That’s helping? All I could do was to humbly say “Your welcome.”
As I was flying back home I felt myself physically and emotionally drained. I wrote down the ideas that Skip, “Jane” and I came up with to truly try and help these people. All of them seeming so simple yet almost impossible to accomplish. I thought about how I will soon be home and back to my own life as each of these children will have to continue the fight with hope and despair. How each day that goes by each of the girls I saw are just one day closer to living a life of prostitution. How each day each of these children are one day closer to possible death because they don’t have enough to eat or the medicine to cure simple diarrhea. Since I was there I can’t turn it off. Each one of the people I met are now part of my life. She is part of my life.
So I guess I have become their voice of one crying in the wilderness. Asking others to help.
Hope is the vision of things unseen….
As my friend Skip says, “You instantly love these children, and at the same time, the grief of their existence is nearly overwhelming. You are caught between staggering injustice and childhood optimism.” These people, these children, amongst utmost despair, each of them have hope that someone will help them. Thy have hope because “Jane” comes and helps them; asking nothing in return. She is now helping over 200 children. She and her volunteers teach them how to read and write. How to brush their teeth and keep clean. And with help she can teach them a simple trade to provide an income to help their families eat and help them stay out of prostitution.