Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Reflections - Street Children

I miss Kazakhstan. Over the course of the next several weeks or so I will take some time to reflect on some of the other things we saw and experienced while we were in Kazakhstan. I want to make sure I write things down so we don't forget them in the future.

Now that Emily is home and we are getting a glimpse at the kind of life she might experience, I can't help but remember the children we left behind. Yes, the kids in the babyhouse are on my heart but I feel fairly confident that many of them will find homes in the near future. Even if they don't find homes right away, they are loved and well cared for by the caregivers, doctors and other staff that interact with them. It's not an ideal situation for any child, but their needs are being met until their forever families come to get them.

The children that are on my heart today are the street children that we met while in Uralsk. There are many, many children in Uralsk that beg for money. I'm not sure when we were first exposed to these children beggars but they were frequently around the churches, the Atrium, the Big Market and on the way through the cemetery to the old church. Sundays are a big day for beggars at the churches.

The first street child I remember seeing was a little girl that couldn't have been more than 7 or 8. Misha drove us to one of the old Russian Orthodox churches and as we got out of the car she crossed the street and walked up to each of us and asked us for money. Aliya, being a seasoned Kazakh, didn't even acknowledge that the little girl was talking to her and kept walking toward the door while Tom and I on the other hand were trying to figure out what she wanted.

I caught up with Aliya and she said the little girl was wanting money. I looked around and there was an older woman across the street selling goods that could be used/taken into the church but the little girl didn't seem to be associated with her at all. She seemed to be out on her own trying to get whatever she could scrounge up. As we went back inside the church, the little girl crossed the street again and waited for the next people to arrive.

Aliya made a good observation... When the children come to ask you for money... they no longer look like children. This little girl was a child by stature, but was not child-like except for the way she scurried across the street to miss the traffic. When she looked at us, her face was somber. Most children have a sparkle in their eyes and are quick to smile... but this little girl's eyes were blank. Dead.

We saw her again as we left the church and I'm pretty sure Tom handed off a little change to her before we got back into the car.

Most days while in Uralsk we ate lunch at MacJohn's which is in the Atrium (a small mall by American standards). There were several times (especially on Sundays) where there would be a handful of boys that would also ask people for money. At first, they reminded me of the kids at Wal-Mart or Kroger's that are collecting money for their ball teams. They would stand in the entryway between the double-doors and ask people for money as soon as they walked in. I don't know if they did it to everyone but they tended to follow us from one door to the next (about 20 feet) and repeatedly ask us for money.

Another day, we visited the Big Market. This is a 3 story market that is set up like an indoor flea market. There is a large area out front were people tend to stand around and talk. On this day, there were several boys begging for money. One was obviously handicapped and was doing his best to stay out of peoples' way. He had difficulty walking, was slightly disfigured and had crutches with cuffs similar to kind used for long-term mobility problems.

Another boy had obviously had a rough night or been in a brawl with somebody. His eye was blackened and had scratches all over his face. He was with a few other boys but none of them could have been older than 12 or 13. Aliya had asked us not to give money to the children but Tom's heart told him otherwise and he handed off a little money behind his back while we were talking. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite that sneaky and Aliya and Bo and Deb thought maybe the boy had tried to pick Tom's pocket. (Which we had also been warned about before our trip to Kazakhstan.) We cleared it up and no, the boy was only taking what Tom had offered him.

SO, now my heart is breaking for these kids that have to beg on the street. I'm also really torn because not all of these kids are truly in need. Other adopting families have reported in their blogs that they later saw the same street kids playing games in the internet cafes... which you have to pay an hourly rate to use. Many of these kids were simply putting on their sad faces so they could get a few extra tenge to play games with their friends.

Aliya also shared that unfortunately there is a real danger in giving money to some of these children... especially if you're one of the families that likes to explore the town on foot or walk to the places where these kids hang out. A former adopting family offered some money to one of the kids and every time the family would see this kid he remembered them and would ask them for money. He began harrassing them and would not give up. He even got to a point where he and some friends followed the couple home to their apartment and repeatedly knocked on their apartment door and shouted at them inside. He showed up several times and they began to fear for their safety.

The moral dilemma I faced was knowing which kids were legitimate and which ones were scamming everyone. These kids are good! Several have even been reported as having handicaps, crutches, etc. and then are seen picking up their crutches and running to the next good begging site. I wanted to be able to help someone that was truly in need but you can't really sit down for an impromptu interview and ask to see all their financial statements from the last couple of years. So, my heart will continue to hurt for these kids... whether they are truly in need or if they are scamming the system so they can play a few games down the street. Either way, I've seen where many of these kids live and it isn't pretty.

Emily was in a good place when we found her and in my opinion she's in an even better place now.

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