I’d usually avoid looking into their eyes after they place a recycled enveloped on my lap. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even touch the envelope as I uncomfortably wait for them to get back for it after putting one on each jeepney passenger’s lap. But always, I will not put anything inside. They must also feel shame and discomfort as I would, shame for begging. There are very few jobs that are more shameful than this. [Although their’s is an evolved form of mendicancy, marked by a little more push by means of approaching their ‘target’ instead of waiting for them to pass by and drop a coin. Probably because the latter has lost its effectiveness. And the desperate time requires desperate measures. Truly, in this competitive age, you have to know how to make your ‘product’ more accessible to people.]
But for the first time, this afternoon, the experience was a bit different. Despite my fear and guilt that the kid might just use the money I will put inside the envelope for drugs or some unworthy cause, I quickly tucked in a five peso coin. This does not mean that this was the only time my heart was moved. For crying out loud, thoughts would race in my head each and every time one of these would approach me. What can I do to help? Will my alms giving be of any good? But aren’t there ministries that care for these kids? Perhaps they really just do not want to be ‘reached’ and helped? This is their parents’ fault! And so on and so forth.
But I would always not look into their eyes. I am as guilty as their mother and father. I am guilty of not doing anything. I am guilty of not trying hard enough to figure out what I should do. They are too young to be left to the mercy of the streets and poverty. And I am too old to be this useless when it comes to upholding their rights.
For the first time, this afternoon, I followed the young lad with my eyes as he stepped out of the jeepney and went to the island in the middle of the highway. I didn’t expect that God would give me a glimpse of his eyes. I could not begin to describe what that facial expression was. He looked like a disgruntled worker. As if he had been working all day in hard labor but his employer had not given him his labor’s due. As if he had been tricked by a promise that he had trusted with all his heart. And now there is only hopelessness. It was only four in the afternoon; he is only about 8 years old; he must have collected only 20 pesos during the past hour. It must be hard to accept that that is the only wage due him after shaming himself in front of more than a hundred passengers. Even if he collected more than that, do you actually think there is a sense of dignity in begging?
The the train of thoughts came rushing in again. How could his parents allow him to do this? Shouldn’t he be studying? Shouldn’t social workers be helping him out? They must be so poor and desperate that they have to do this. And then there’s that big word again: POVERTY. Poverty and the age old promise of politicians to take us out of it. We know too well that at the root of poverty is corruption. And so our politicians also promise us to take out corruption. But both statements are often said shamelessly without truthfulness. If only for a day they would experience what this kid does.
More questions stream. How come my nation is so poor? How come a nation this poor could still afford to sell it’s HOPE by selling its VOTES? I simply cannot understand the heartlessness of CORRUPTION. It is unfair. Corruption has hands that strangle our children and steal from them the JOY of their youth. Our corrupt leaders have the blood of these youth on their hands. And if we put them in office, we will have the blood of a generation on our hands. Voting citizens, kids cannot and must not be given the responsibility of taking care of themselves. Whether we like it or not, it is our DUTY to SECURE for them a FUTURE and a HOPE. This we can do through our vote.
Yesterday I was watching a game show and all the kid contestants who were interviewed had the same reason for wanting to finish school: to pull their family out of poverty. Each time, the mom or dad would say, “Salamat anak.”
If the world were not up side down, I don’t know what else to call it.
Please, for the sake of our children, vote wisely. Vote conscientiously. Do not “sell” you vote just because you think your candidate is not gonna win. Do not believe the POLLS. (This is what my friend who is in the research department of a media institution told me.) You are not simply voting for yourself. You are voting for the next generation.