Monday, February 21, 2011
(Roosten giving us a smile)
Walking along a windswept beach in Boracay, taking photos, we were being followed. A young boy was on our heels. This wasn’t unusual – he was begging for money. But, this boy would turn out to be a little different. His name was Roosten.
Upon our arrival in the Philippines, we were a bit surprised by the poverty we saw. Arriving at our first tourist site, we walked into the Binondo Church in Manila and within two minutes a small child was in front of me with her hands outstretched, begging for money. These children don’t say much… “Please, mam,” or simply “I’m hungry.” They don’t have to say much. Their dirty, ill fitting clothes and lack of shoes tell the story. My heart immediately ached and I remembered similar encounters in Mexico.
At times I gave money to the children we encountered and at other times I didn’t. I learned I had to move quickly, because once I reached for my purse, others in need would materialize from all corners. As a tourist, we were already targets. I remember one child doing a dance of joy or simply gloating to his friends, after I put a few coins in his hand. And, these children were persistent. However, none quite like Roosten.
On that beach, Roosten was one of several beggar children. We put up our façade and tried to ignore him as he tailed after us. But, it’s simply heartbreaking. How can you ignore a child when he tells you he’s hungry? So, at first my husband and I just started talking to Roosten. And then he started hamming it up for us and we took a few photos, which he said was okay. He enjoyed seeing the results on our digital screen. We told him he was handsome and did he know what that meant? Yes, we did give Roosten money. I was surprised, he continued hanging around. And, when it was time to go, he stood on the corner as we hopped on a trike (motorbike and sidecar). With a big smile he waved to us until we were out of sight.
Those are images that aren’t easily forgotten. It’s hard to see anyone beg for money or food. But, of course children are different. You can still see the light in their eyes and they’re still quick to smile. They laugh and play as all children do. Amazingly, many don’t seem defeated by their circumstances. I hope they never are.
(On the same beach, these children also asked for money)