In my previous blog, “Tough Decisions (part 1)“, I tried to explain how the decisions we make on helping kids are very difficult. I used a recent child’s case to show how we were able to help, at least for now, a child and her mother. Less than 24 hours after this encounter I had another tough decision to make about a child.
I was in Poipet with some Australian friends doing what I usually don’t recommend for visitors. . . eating “sidewalk food”. The unhygienic conditions with rats walking around, swarming flies and cockroaches larger than mice is not for the raw tourist gut. The food is usually tasty, but can send people to the hospital. Most of all, it is dirt cheap. A crowd can eat for just a few dollars! As we were eating, the inevitable happened; one by one child beggars spotted the foreign crowed and they approached us with their most pathetic facial expressions and whimpering voices they could muster.
My Austrian friends asked me, “How can you help them Steve?” Unfortunately, the answer is quite complicated. It is almost impossible to help street beggars because it is a livelihood for them. It is engrained in their family culture and most of them are forced to do so by their parents. Having been in Cambodia for more than twenty years I know many of the beggars personally. None of them that I know are actually poor. I know one man, who “dominates” the Russian market who has been their everyday for the last twenty years. Each day he puts on his tattered Army clothes (I doubt he was ever in the Army) and drives (yes, a car) near to the market and begins his whimpering begging routine. He makes as much as $50 a day . . . which is more money than even Members of Parliament make in Cambodia! Shoot . . . it’s much more than I make!
These beggar kids in Poipet are already well known. They are from the “beggar province” in Cambodia: Svay Rieng. The people of this province, for generations, have become the regions beggars. Most Cambodian beggars are from that province. In all the regional capitals like Saigon, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur when I have come across Cambodian beggars, they were from Svay Rieng as well. The Khmer Rouge also despised this beggar culture and tried to execute everyone in the entire province in the 1970’s. Not everyone from this province are beggars though, my brother-in-law hails from there, but he is an honorable and decent man. As the beggar kids came and went I spotted something which boils my blood . . . a beggar child carrying an infant. They use the infants to make more money.
I called the little girl carrying a limp skinny infant over. She was no more than 8 years old (younger than my own daughter). My wife gave her a harsh scolding (that is very rare) for abusing the infant. We found out that there were three children in the family and the parents were living in a local Buddhist temple while they had the kids go out and beg. Sure enough, they were from Svay Rieng. The children had never been to school, yet could beg in multiple languages. My wife demanded to see how much money they made, and they turned over their cash to her. We counted it together. In only one hour each had already amassed more than $3.00. Their one hour total is more than a factory worker can make in a day (the current minimum wage is $0.75 per hour).
I told them, if they would like, I would take them all to my center where they could have a quality education, free food everyday and a proper place to sleep with a mattress for a bed, rather than cardboard. They immediately refused. I wasn’t surprised. My attention was brought to the baby, who looked sickly and weak. I have personally met children who rent babies from poor mothers to use for begging. Some drug the babies to look lifeless. Others let them be bit with insects so they have sores all over their bodies. The more pitiful looking the infant, the more cash they receive. Many of these babies simply die from exposure and abuse and are discarded in the trash.
So, what do you do? Ignore? Become enraged? Kidnap the baby? Call the police? Scold the mother? Cry?
I asked to hold the baby. The girl gave her up, but stayed close so I would not try and flee with her little sister. I just held her close to me for about twenty minutes. She weighed less than fish that I caught in Minnesota last month. The sister confirmed the baby was 7 months old, yet looked like a new born. As the baby breathed I could hear her lungs churn with a grinding sound. Apparently her organs are not properly developed. She was filthy and smelly. Her whole body could fit in one hand, but I cradled her with my arms. She certainly was 7 months old because she could hold her own bottle, roll over and respond to people around her. Yet, she was so small that my wedding ring could fit as a bracelet on her wrist.
Then the mother staggered up to me. I tried to hand the baby back to her and she said she was too sick to hold the baby . . . but, pitifully asked me if I could provide her with money for medicine so she could hold her baby again. The lie spewed like vomit from her lips. My wife scolded her and her shamelessness. Clearly the mother was also drunk and reeked of alcohol. I wanted to kick her and run away with the baby.
I had to make a tough decision. I can’t help everyone. Some people don’t want help. I can’t kidnap someone else’s baby just because they are a bad mother. I am not the messiah of children in Cambodia.
So, I just quietly prayed. I prayed that this baby would not suffer long. I prayed that the family would see the error of their lifestyle choice. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would convict callous hearts. I prayed that Jesus would take this baby to heaven . . . and I felt a peace that I would see this nameless baby again one day in heaven. I handed the baby back to the little girl.
And I left.
My heart still hurts. Each day I have faced with tough decisions like this.