Tag Archives: childrens rights

A Light In The Jungle

Balas emerged slowly from his bed like every other day. It was about 6am, but no alarm went off. His tall, lean body guided him to the small enclosed shower of brisk cool water on what looked like a hot summer day. He quickly showered and shaved what few whiskers were bold enough to claim residence on his clean and radiant complexion.

His morning routine took little time. A bit of soap, a spot of deodorant, and a spritz of aftershave made him feel fresh and ready to greet the world. Only steps away lay his clothes for the day. Always jeans, and a clean and bright white shirt. Comfortable walking shoes a necessity for someone who lived on his feet all day. One last brush to his hair, an inspection of his dark colombian complexion .. less European than some and not so dark as others. Still his features hinted of a long family history of indigenous inhabitants.

He turned toward the door with a last look at the mirror that was his final inspection. Less a look at the surface, he saw his appearance, picked up the door key, and a little wad of money that was his travel money for the day and he picked up his bag turned to the door to join others in their usual commute to work. He locked the door behind him.

Bolas did not speak much. Not that he was quiet or even private. He enjoyed his friends, lived openly and contentedly at work and at play. But took his work seriously and loved considering his future. He boarded a bus toward the town center and though he worked at the barrio’s hospital, he went only so far as the bus station hub for a day in the hills where he would bring medical treatment to those with neither transport nor insurance. Twice every month he provided this service, alternating with another intern.

The best part of his possessions were stored in his bag. After three years in the hospital, it seemed to be all he needed in life. He was not one to cling to the past. His future was to be a full fledged doctor. Memories? They were meant to reside inside. Things to be divulged when moments called on them. He had very few photos, not even one of himself.

At the bus station he paid his fare for the day trip into the mountains to a small village of 20 homes and 3-4 times that many inhabitants. The needs there he knew would be everything from infected wounds and malnutrition to heart problems that would never be covered in a hospital environment.

Balas carried his bag on the bus with him and stowed it under his seat never far from his sight. Most of the passengers on this bus also boarded here. Few carried much more than himself for their long distance ride to family in mountain towns familiar with a much more rural form of transportation. Most passengers looked like they were returning home from a busy stay in the big city. Perhaps they were here to make official papers to register births or deaths, or a relative abroad had sent them a small token of aid.

The nearly full bus rumbled to a start and began it’s journey out of the tranquility of the beautiful town center of Medellin and after a one mile drive to the edge of the city turned sharply left into the hills and mountains that surrounded it. How close the mountains seemed. And how quickly the roads changed to winding paths known only to familiar travellers.

The bus bumped and rocked around sharp mountain turns. The thickening jungle reached further and further toward the center of the road blocking the greatest part of the natural light of the day. The dark uncertainty of other vehicles lay around every turn. Occasional openings reminded him of the blue skies over Medellin. Shifting bodies and baggage caused Balas to recheck the bag at his feet. Every kilometer further into the jungle the more valuable he felt … he knew he was all that linked rural locales to necessary medical sciences.

He looked around the bus. Small family groups in quiet conversation scattered everywhere. But none like this tranquil modest young man of 24 years. He continued looking out the window and hoped patiently for the final 10 km through the rollicking mountains.

Balas had made this same trip every two weeks for the past two years. It was voluntary work but it made a marked difference in paying his university debts. He lived cheaply. Partied on rare occasions. He loved going to football matches with his work companions. But this voluntary work permitted him to save nearly $4,000 in US money.

The trees of the jungle pressed more densely over the highway. Tree after tree was noticeably different from previous trips, almost making the trip unfamiliar. The jungle canopy, the density and color of the trees all made even the road feel different.

He turned again to the window beside him. “My whole life is changing” he thought. A poor abandoned baby left on the doorstep of a home, he depended on each acquaintance to make something of himself. Nothing lasted. “Who would believe that I could finish school and university!” In reality, he still had four more years of study before he celebrated. Until then, he was confident that he was the doctor to many communities of poor unattended families.

Suddenly with a lurch, the bus abruptly stopped and everyone lurched side to side. He regained his balance and looked about him to see that others were ok. Conversations rose loudly with many shouting to the driver: “What are you doing! You could have injured my daughter!” As calm returned once more to the passengers, the doors of the bus were opened. The barrel of a large guage weapon emerged, then the floppy brim of a camoflaged military hat, and finally, large dirty hands and belts of bullets.

“Everybody off the bus” the leader waved brazenly. Looking up and down the rows of passengers, taking in the possessions and status of each. The second soldier looked up the bus steps as though the lead man was the boss. As passengers disembarked, they referred a few individuals to separate in a different group. With bag in hand, Balas was one of those.

The passengers were guided into lines in the road beside the bus. Three more armed soldiers appeared to secure compliance and order. Naturally those in line grouped by familiarity with fellow passengers. Others formed groups more separate. The added soldiers forced passengers into tighter lines and prevented escape.

When the last of the passengers had left the bus, the two leaders surveyed the mass of people and ordered the three soldiers to search the bus.

Eventually a man emerged who appeared to be the commander. His voice assured and unemotional, he informed the passengers that they would be here several days. “Don’t do anything stupid“ he said and pointed the barrel of his gun directly at the head of young girl.

When the three guerillas had returned with the last of the baggage, the commander ordered that everyone be separated into groups of men and women. As they speedily attacked their task, they collected all objects of interest .. watches, wallets, bags, and small valuables. Everything was closely examined by the amateur jewelers. The jewelry, wallets and money went directly into a separate bag. Obviously, these held more immediate value.

The luggage, sight unseen, was loaded into a truck that had appeared secretly on the dark jungle road. Once all was stored for future consideration, passengers were told “Stay in line. Follow us. Do not be stupid.” With that the three guards pushed and shoved first the men down the isolated road into the dense jungle vegetation.

Balas had been manipulated in some way to the front of the line. The others followed reluctantly. They feared any more of the forest’s secrets as armed guards hit and pushed him forward. It was difficult to imagine the men and life stories that were hidden behind masks. Somehow, at 24 years old he was much younger than his new masters. However, the doctor felt a little responsible for each of the bus passengers, their destinies, their fears, their physical conditions.

It was a long walk. The truck gone ahead had unsuccessfully pressed down most of the overgrowth. It was definitely a road traffic used. When approaching a fork in the road, new guards advanced with guns raised. “Men left, women to the right.” Within seconds, Balas felt a very strong fear for what might happen to women and children unprotected now separated from their stronger husbands, friends or siblings. He realized he could not prevent attacks by armed guerrillas, but could only imagine the utter powerlessness they must be feeling.

The walk was very short now. Only the voices of the fighters now came from both roads. The voices grew quieter but still distinct in the silent forest. As the group came to a clearing, Balas saw how easily his life could be dispersed, and how difficult it would be for help find them. Help. The idea had barely entered his mind. So far he had only thought how they would help themselves.

The camp had several tents of various sizes. And a wooden shed. Passengers were imprisoned in the bigger tent full of cots and blankets. All were in their new home awaiting only to be informed of their fate. The guard who entered the bus, now entered the tent. With just a gesture, other guards moved quickly to each of the men putting plastic pulls on the clenched fists of each person. The zip of the cuffs was heard over and over again until the guards came to the end of the rows of cots.

For the first time it became clear that there were only nine men jailed. Balas estimated their ages 30-50. He figured they were doing local business or traveling between Medellin and Bogota for business. Perhaps some were in search of work. Now he saw that he was the youngest.

“We need to question each of you. We will not tolerate your lies or failure to cooperate with us. You will help us, or be executed. Your freedom depends on your cooperation.” As he spoke the guard at his shoulder looked up and down the lines, and stopped several times at Balas. They were strong men. Their voices intolerant. Not the kind of people Balas frequently met in Medellin or rural hospitals.

The guerrillas left the room for a smaller tent, leaving two men to guard the prisoners. Wallets were opened and examined for money, credit cards, bank cards, identification … anything that would suggest the net worth of a person. Once it has been determined, they returned to the larger tent, where the passengers were sitting on the edges of beds with hands cuffed together behind them.

“You! Come with me!” No doubt that was not a request. The older man in a light colored casual dress hurriedly got up and walked to where the guerrilla captain stood. The captain, his aide and the businessman disappeared almost as fast as the words were spoken. Everyone looked at each other. Some were concerned. Others bewildered. No one spoke. Fear was the only common denominator that everyone shared.

In the quietness one expected only to hear the loud voices of the guerrillas. In contrast, above the soft rustle of the wind and the birds, we heard the screams and sobs of women from somewhere beyond our reach. And then it stopped. Suddenly. The silence was shattered. A bullet barked uncomfortably close. The voice “I will not ask you again!” was definitely the captain. The screams that followed were punctuated by attempts to comply with the voice.

The guerrillas had discovered his employer, his home, his wife’s name and children. Not one of them would be safe unless he gave his bank account pin numbers, and gave U.S. $ 10,000 in Colombian pesos within three days in a specific place. His wife was notified by the businessman’s own cellphone. There was only one moment of interaction between them. And some concern about how he would rescue them.

Pushed into the tent, stumbling and crying, the business man covered his face as he returned to his bed. “Three days! Or this man is dead! “They stopped and examined the tent. “You!” and they selected another that looked like a businessman.

For hours this continued. From the rich to the most unlikely. No one heard the questioning. Only the sound of a gun shot, the roar of a threat. The demand for further information. And a sobbing, humiliated body lying on the floor in front of us.

As the forest grew dark, everyone wondered when would this end. There were three passengers not yet questioned. Balas was one of them. He prayed for morning. The guards arrived. They looked around again, “Balas! Now! “He got up and walked the 2 meters to the guards who seemed to lift him off the ground and take him by the elbows. It was dark. Where were they going. The wooden shed with a faint light that alone shone in the window. The door opened to show the captain and his aide. He was held in the air, and then thrown to the ground.

“Please, I have nothing. I’m just a young student who practices medicine. “You have more! We’ll tell you what you have”, said the still masked captain’s voice. “You have a mother. You have a bank. And you have work.” There was no point looking up, Balas knew there was nothing he could do. “And that is your name, Balas?”

A hand suddenly came down and grabbed his head by the hair. “What else you got?” His head was just inches from the dirt floor, he felt the cold metal silver barrel of a gun. They pressed it hard against the side of the head. He tried to see the gun, but was pushed down again hard against the floor. The weapon was still against him. “What do you think you will see, you stupid boy?” The aide grabbed his arm and rolled him on his back. He pulled Balas up and let him lean against the wall as he watched them dial his mother’s telephone. With the weapon against him, pointed at his forehead, he repeated the words they commanded.

“Mama, They’re going to kill me. We have to give them money mama. U.S. $4,000 in three days.” The Captain snatched the cell, while the aid again forced Balas into the ground. In his typical brusqueness, the captain demanded the money to be delivered to a city not far from her home. He has three days to die. “No, I can not take less. Sell what you must, or he dies!” From the prone position on the floor with the gun to his head, Balas knew that his mother did not have that money. He knew he had no more than three days old. And wept.

The aide was not sympathetic. There was a whispered conversation. Balas did not move. The aide’s rough hands hit his head. “Shut up!” “You are nothing. You are fucking worthless.” Hearing these words, Balas was slowly realizing that the two men were dropping their jeans. They lifted his aching body to a table, his hands still cuffed behind his back. The fear faded from his face. In its place, horror transformed him. An unimaginable torture. An unwanted pain. And then, with a final thrust from behind, a force so hard that the gun hurt his teeth, it was over. “Balas! You have no life! You have three days! You will never see your mother. Then you’re one of us.”

The gun fully accomplished its demand. Their voices certainly expressed their relentless determination. As the gun was removed, the pain did not leave. He slowly turned his head to the side. The two men had done their will. And within minutes, the two were gone. The room was locked. Balas fell asleep on the hard table in a dark shed.

Unable to rub the salt tears from his eyes, he could only continue to sob. He had gone from healer to patient, fearful of the physical terror of guerrilla force. What had he done? His mother would have to sell the house he grew up in to pay a ransom that would never secure his freedom.

Time stopped. Darkness and the continuous crying of women made him feel so numb and helpless that he could not bear the thought of what was happening in the rotten world around him. What time was it? Was it a whole night? The screaming did not stop, just changed pitch.

The chain on the door shook as a key found its way in the lock. The door opened and the guards entered. Once again the door closed. “Your mama says you can not pay!” “We will be paid!” the voice said menacingly.

Balas was grabbed by his shoulders from behind, his hands trapped beneath him. Hands, not his own, opened and dropped his jeans. “Hmmmm. This payment can be better than we thought.” He tore off Balas’ shirt and covered the table with it. With Balas again on his back, the aide grabbed the candle that lit the room. Hot wax burned a path from his stomach to his chest. Then changed direction. Each drop sought to find a more sensitive destination. The pain was unbearable. But a hand on his mouth prevented him from screaming. The intruder enjoyed inflicting such pain that he took off his mask while dropping his jeans.

Was this a vulgar attempt to make him feel naked and helpless before the world because he was the prisoner? There is nothing rational in the mind of an abusive personality he thought. His only salvation was in his acceptance and compliance with the powerful. He surrendered once again to the pain. How could he fight the driving force of the man behind him who would never allow him to forget.

“Tomorrow you will take us to the bank! Do not even think of being stupid!” With these words, the door opened and closed. The chains were locked again. Soon the night settled around him. Naked. In pain. Sick to his stomach.

Despite his discomfort and fear, the morning could not come fast enough. The idea of ​​going to the bank brought a sense of comfort and civil treatment. Well, at least he would be fully clothed and with the other waiting passengers.

The doors opened just as they had closed. With the sound of chains, the sound of the lock, and the creaking of the door. The captain stood there. Tall. Masked. Wide-eyed. “Release his hands! Dress him! Blindfold him! “He looked at his assistant with a look that said:” You!” And in the same breath, “Animal!” This was all Balas could see. And all he was going to see for the next hour. He dressed, nodded consent, and was blindfolded. His hands cuffed in front of him. Only his ears could tell the conditions of others.

It should have been anticipated. There was little heard from the women. Just chattering birds. Quiet commands and comments from the guerrillas, the creaking of invisible branches underfoot, everything was recognized. He imagined that it was early morning. Probably 5am. But, with so little sleep, in conditions so uncomfortable, he could not be sure.

His head was pushed down so he could get into a small car. Probably no more than two others and a driver. The captain’s voice in the front seat said he would only have a chance to withdraw all his money from the ATM. If it failed, there would be no need for him to worry any more about nightmares in the shed.

The conversations soon changed to the other prisoners. He sensed that each would be executed once the banks had been cleared and ransoms paid. He wondered if others had seen the faces of the guerrillas? If the poor had already been executed?

He was aware of being in town only because of the unusual stop and go of the car. The roads were better paved. The turns less dramatic. He remembered his only chance. And then the blindfold was released. Both he and the guard next to him climbed out of the car. A jacket covered his hand to hide his weapon. They were parked in front of the ATM. The walk was short. There was no one on the street. “All of it” murmured the guard. After the guard had inserted bank card, Balas entered his PIN number. He retrieved U.S. $4,000 in Colombian pesos which the happy guard immediately secured. Then he returned to the car with the receipt showing only minimal change was in the bank.

‘You’re a good boy. I’m sure we can work together, doctor!” The certainty in the voice of the tone of the captain, failed to pacify him. “Everything hangs on mama, my boy! If she delivers, you have a lifetime of opportunities.” Then as suddenly, as the car turned back from whence it came, he turned to the guard” Put the damned blinders on him, Maria!”

With the blindfold in place, and the jacket removed from covering his hands, Balas tried to settle in the seat. The guard next to him, a little annoyed at being barked at, shoved the hidden hand gun sharply into his ribs to remind him who was the boss. The weapon remained pressed tightly against him all the way back. Each bounce and turn only more painful.

Apparently they were back in camp. Voices said another prisoner was ready to be escorted to one of the various banks. The same driver and the same car would be used. The only indication that the passenger was there was when he hit his head against the car. It remained an almost impossible task to determine how long his own journey was from the table and back to the floor.

When the car pulled away, Balas knew he was being taken to the wood shed. Why? What made him the person marked for this form of torture, while others, supposedly, still shared each others company. At this point, he could again here crying women. But now the guerrilla harassment could be heard clearly, and it had became more impatient.

Now they were asking for more bank accounts of husbands and telefone numbers. There was no concern for either privacy or security. Only statements of satisfaction now. And the cries of other women later forced to watch the same fate.

The realization that there was a problem was not universally perceived. It was a text message for one to a friend in the United States, to another a friend in Medellin. It slowly became apparent there were no messages today for Balas. While he understood where he was, no one understood why he had not communicated with anyone.

This would soon change. A call to the cell phone of Balas’ mother immediately awakened everyone to the fact that she had been contacted to pay $ 4,000 in ransom. She wept profusely on the phone to please hear the news from his voice, of his fears, and his captors. Within an hour, a plan was conceived. She had already raised half the ransom by selling all the plumbing in her house. A mother of 80 years was willing to live without kitchen and bathroom to save the life of a child of 24 years old. The other 50% would come from the United States. Local police were secretly informed of the meeting. A friend in Medellin would receive the money and deliver it personally by motorcycle. From the moment he received the money, he would be 20 minutes late for delivery. Panic and fear were everywhere. A dark sense of humor was the only thing keeping hope alive in an arena full of impossibilities.

Time marked the distance. Telephone was the only way to close the distance with mama. In the afternoon of the third day she received another call from the guerrillas. “You got the money? We will not hesitate to kill him!” She promised the money and asked an additional 30 minutes for it to arrive. The house was darker than a typical home. No telephone wires or police facilities. There was no direct public access to the town. Again, the police were notified.

The guerrillas call came at 1:00pm. The money would be transferred at 2:00pm at the earliest. The motorcyclist had to get the money to travel from Medellin to Mama’s house (about 1.5 hours on mountain roads) and then go to the location turnover by 4:00pm.

In haste, the motorcycle sped down the road. It was not well marked. No obstructions. But the rise and the curves of the road were treacherous. The forest that constantly lined the road permitted some light. But somehow, this narrow piece of road, turning as it did, always allowed a narrow beam of light to guide the rider to his destination.

It was slow and painful to the rider. Every mile was a question time. What obstacles must still be overcome? Even when he reached his destination, Would mama get to the designated location on time? Will they really release Balas as promised?

Mama sat peacefully in the only chair left in a house of bare bones. The telephone beside her. There were no relatives to call. Nobody could offer any help more than she had already asked. It was not just that every heart feels the pain of a mother pondering the possibilities of all that mattered in life – her son. He was still a child. Still hoping to graduate. Working to bring life and light to others.

She wound the clock that sat by the telephone. The cyclist did not come for another 10 minutes at best. She rose slowly. There was nothing else to do in the room. She walked steadily, but slowly to the door of her son’s bedroom. It had never been changed. His bed waiting his tired body after long bus rides home. Memories flooded the room with distant football games, the gardener he had worked for, the doctor who mentored him, the priest who had supported. All were gone now, but the memories remained.

The metallic sound of coughing rose and fell silent again. Within seconds there was a knock at the door. Lifted by some indefatigable spirit, which led her to the door, she greeted the masked and helmeted cyclist as enthusiastically as her son’s dearest friend. She invited him to her poor home, she offered the only chair that remained, she accepted his warm and friendly words, she even shared a hug that was perhaps a little closer and a little longer than new friends normally share. He joked wryly, but laughter was good.

As she apologized for not having a cold drink for him after his long journey, Juan opened the curtain to allow more light into the room. There was not much light to find in this small community. Still a sliver of light drew its line across the floor. Juan. And mama. They were the only names needed.

Briefly they discussed the instructions and advice they were given. And then, in unison, they agreed it was time to go. Mama turned to close the door. She looked at the picture of the Sacred Heart. She followed the beam of light that led to the naked kitchen. She looked for a moment at the door of the bedroom ajar. And shut the door.

Climbing on the bike behind Juan, she grabbed his waist and pulled him close. Both leaned toward each other as the motorcycle slowly pulled away from the house. Both leaned forward as they drove into the future by an unknown path. While it may have come from any number of different locations, both held within them the hope that Balas was safe.

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Filed under childrens rights

A Sad Song

Omar was 20 years old when he returned to the family home in Cali. Like the beloved and forgiven prodigal son he was received by some with great happiness and by others with a large amount of uncertainty. The events which had sent him away were gone and forgotten. But not the recollections of the belligerent, aggressive, assertive young man who challenged the family calm. The days that followed were not quite the same, an impending expectation constantly hovered over the house. His warm smile, open heart, and familial affections were valuable tools in pacifying those expectations. But who would say or do what to awaken the dormant lion.

Omar was genuinely happy to be home again. He had no money, no friend had been quick to offer him a night much less a week of refuge. He had lost much weight. Appearance alone suggested he had made attempts to change. But the loss of weight was merely his inability to eat regularly.

His clothes were the same but more ragged. He liked this look. His hair retained the ragged look of his clothes. And the one possession that remained his mark in life was still his guitar. A quick hot meal, an hour of warm welcomes, a shower and new bedroom was all it took for him to return to his old haunt – the 8:30 visit to the park.

Not too brightly polished, he pulled himself up on a rock near the university and began fiddling with the tuning of his guitar. It was not his own guitar. It was only a part of a bargain kit purchased by a friend years ago who could not play guitar. They were a group then. Strong wills prevented them from achieving their dreams of greatness. And soon, the one dream became many dreams and Omar found himself alone miles away in Bogota … strumming and singing for food and drink. Sometimes for a friendly warm night with a new friend.

Amazing how a smile and a joke, a song of life and confession of dreams could make almost anyone your friend. Making new friends had never been difficult for him. Making them last was a much bigger problem. For two years Omar sought to leave behind a life of harsh experiences. The brutal cost of a fouled marriage, a child that no father could resist, a separated wife working in the world of exhibition on camera, sucked all hope and familial aspiration from him. When the two parents were together, he was nothing like the free spirit attached to his guitar. Sullen, angry, and detached only the cuddles of a child of two years old could crack the calloused armor that surrounded him.

Atop his rock, he was a king at home with his court, strumming, humming, smiling, and joking until his audience could provide a burger, a beer, and if lucky one face had signaled a door was open to further opportunities.

Like buskers across the globe, his opening song full of positive hope and possible dreams charmed and lured locals and tourists. He sang of romantic relationships that touched and pulled on the heart strings of many. He told stories of loss. Hardships not his own. Of everyday people turning difficulties into opportunity. When he had enough money accumulated, and his new friends were enticed closer to the experience of life that promised hope and love, he collected all that he had and invited those closest to share his wealth over a simple meal and cheap boxes of red wine. The moments were scripted and flawless. Generosity among those with little was bound to secure friendship at least as long as the minstrel could sustain his charm.

Hard life? Not really. He had learned to give away everything to acquire the one thing he needed. Tomorrow was a new day. He could begin again with the freedom and freshness of new friends and new experiences. His collection of songs would last. His stories and experiences would never fail. And thus he found a way to detach from the disappointments of losing his one love, his daughter.

Some nights never lasted as long as others. Some did not offer the privacy and lasting warmth he had hoped for. On those nights he would retire to the family home. A little late. A little drunk. And a little frustrated. These were memorable nights to the entire family. Late hours with loud noises mixed poorly with the tired and the young. Any attempt at managing or channeling Omar’s energy positively were lost in bold, brazen words that hurt almost as much as his accidentally successful physical assaults.

Omar loved his child. He loved those friends who lasted those few hours. But had a difficult time with the familial expectations of constructive long-term relationships. His years of independence had broken down all sense of obligation to others. Even his humor was very short when he found the way home and wanted only to stumble into bed.

Few children grow up dreaming of mediocrity. Even the poorest hope for work and success. Small steps may be necessary but they never mark the place a child stops dreaming. Omar had dreams beyond imagination. He knew. He knew he was good at his craft. That others wanted his woven stories of song and prose that related to their own lives. He knew he loved music and would be the best, even if he had never studied music.

In truth, he had never studied much. He was not an only child, but thought he should have been. He was the eldest of three children of his mothers second husband. Yet he grew up like the two children of the first husband. Fatherless. A father was free to live and work when, how, and as often as he liked. And when he did not like, he could change every rule and recreate the rules of his world. Church vows enforced nothing. Government aid supported broken families. Fathers simply moved to a new location, found a new wife, and like a man in search of new work he embarked on a new experiment. Mama sought work in any way she could – though she never had the same education. Children left school to do anything conceivable to pay bills and find food. Reaching the age of 18 – 24 never meant adulthood. It meant more responsibilities to the family. Daughters … the first to leave school, thea first to look after siblings … rarely had the opportunity to prepare for any specialized workforce, and never learned anything positive about the men in their lives.

Omar’s eldest sister was the only child in the family of 5 children to receive a university education and a professional vocation. His only older brother had found employment, but without any education it was not going to lead to advancement. And so, with 5 years of work behind him, the only meaningful way to pay household bills was to rent a room to university students. His two younger sisters remained at home, one with her daughter, and one housekeeping. Their lives being spent waiting for any kind of man to support them and their families.

Whatever distinguished Omar and his siblings from the elder children, was clearly profound but never understood. Dreams or achievements? Work or ambition? Does everything come from the father? Does it leave when papa leaves? Why did all of the elder children find lasting if unprofitable employment? Why did none of the younger children ever try? Why did the government not distinguish between each and their potential? Why did the church require a vow that it would not enforce?

Did Omar become the father who preferred drink and independence to daily responsibility. Did he discard values because that were complications to a young life. What ever shaped Omar determined a path with unexplored options. Only his own energy would find a path to the future.

Professional opportunities would never be his fortune. But like everything in his life, opportunity found him. The family home was overcrowded with five siblings and one student renter. Mortgage payments were high on this small outdated home. And only two were working to pay mortgage, utilities, health insurance, motorcycle payments, travel, and food. The student invited a law professor to visit and consult with the family. It was not a long meeting, but one that would change many lives. Not only could a lawyer find new solutions, but an adult could bring new perspectives to family and group expenses.

Within only days Emerson had reconstructed the home mortgage payments with the agreement of the bank and had located a professional work opportunity for Omar that paid very well for a 20 year old with little education. With lower payments and a third income the house was prepared to begin planning on futures for everyone. Emerson had found a connection in the home that welcomed him professionally and personally. As none of the children had truly known a male parental figure in their lives, he represented the first positive role model to desire a place with them.

Omar was excited about the opportunity, though he did not like having to wear clean bright white shirts and hard shoes to work every day. In time, he found he could not work under the oversight of an office manager who observed every second of his routine. Nor did he like the “down-nose” looks of those he worked with. While he never had to work directly with any of these individuals and had a large amount of time outside of the office, the freedoms could not offset the imprisonment of routine.

It was only time that would reveal the dramatic extents of Omar’s discomfort. Although he reported to the Office Manager, he worked with all office management personnel in keeping the work routines of the designers productive. Sometimes delivering documents, other times running office errands. His social skills were his forte, but independence was perceived as nonconformity or noncooperation. Still, even this was not his fatal flaw.

After one month of service, a problem surfaced that was potentially criminal. Emerson was contacted to assist Omar in the problem, but discovered that the office was also contacting lawyers. A large sum of money, an entire payroll for the office had been delivered, marked into ledgers, and then gone missing. There was no evidence to implicate anyone. But only two persons could have been involved. In the waning hours of the night, Omar acknowledged to Emerson that he had indeed stolen the money but that it was now spent. The lack of work ethics, self-respect, and love of family had placed an honorable lawyer in the middle of a criminally prosecutable situation. With only an hour to act, Emerson reached an agreement with the design company to repay the entire sum and terminate Omar immediately with no criminal record.

Omar’s repentance was a quiet one that neither he nor Emerson would have wanted public. Yet the house to whom he was now committed was again left with only two incomes. Although it was a poor time for Omar to rely on his bully nature, it is what came naturally to him when he was frustrated. His siblings were on the verge of evicting him when a new opportunity emerged. A nationwide music competition based on local voting to select the finalists was announced. Not only was it something everyone knew would appeal to Omar, it was the only thing he talked about for weeks.

When Omar came home with an entire band kit of guitars and drums, speakers and microphones, every eye opened. Even Emerson was shocked to guess where the money had come from. Nothing but Omar could stand between himself and the verdict of his dream. The household would be pleased to see him go … for the second time. No one imagined he would be part of a solution even if he was to win the grand prize. But a life without him would be so much more calm.

It’s hard to go from busker to a nationally recognized player. But Omar had spent years doing his apprenticeship. He had learned the songs. The crowd wooing. All he needed was the acknowledgement of the crowds and the approval of the judges. Omar was noticed. He was invited to join the competition to award scholarships in music and recording contracts. Fully paid, the competitions covered 4 widely separated cities in one month. After a rocky start, Omar found his niche and rose to the top by warming the audiences like he had sitting on the rocks around the University. Every night he chose his song and practiced for hours. Every day he took the stage, met with judges, and warmed … no charmed his way to the top.

Omar survived every cut to reach the final three. Proud of his achievement, he telephoned his financial supporter to announce the good news and the nature of the offer made to him. There was no cash prize, no contract, no award of new instruments. But he was to be awarded a year of musical training with free room and board included. This was astounding news. News that should thrill almost anyone. But for some reason it did not thrill Omar.

He seemed to have a new dilemma. Like everything else in his world of dreams come true, there had to be an irrelevant crisis. And now the news that was already weeks old was broken … somewhere in his whirlwind nationwide tour he acquired a sexually transmitted disease. Not only acquired it, but through weeks of neglect now sat a very painful, unexplored distance from death. Blood? Discoloration? Swelling? More swelling? Unimaginable swelling? All of this and not one person was consulted. The telephone was not an opportunity to cheerlead. At long last, it was a plea for help.

Medical testing was not to diagnose the disease, it was to ascertain how vast was the problem. The disease had begun as a sexual one. Ignored, it was now closer to being one of the blood. After that, there would be no need for surgery. Once again the extroverted independent was dependent on others to secure assistance and secrecy. Once more, family was less informed or trusted than wealthy outsiders. Emerson negotiated acceptance of the prize on a deferred basis while securing travel and medical insurance to cover catastrophic surgery.

Not one person knew the whereabouts of Omar for the one month after his victorious adventure. No one heard the good news. And the whole time he was a short bus ride away in a hospital well known and visited by many of the household. The preliminary diagnosis called for the removal of one organ. This would have permitted a normal active life. In the end however, it was realized that the removal of two organs was necessary, and the replacement by false substitutes inevitable. A young man, full of life and frivolity was giving up the opportunity of a normal active future because of poor judgement and discretion.

By the time Omar was bold enough to surface at home he had come to new conclusions in his life. His life of independence was replaced by a life of secrecy. He dropped out of the free classes. But continued his relations with old band members. His success was known, but not rewarding. His secret was medically corrected, but not emotionally satisfying. His wife was remarried. His daughter living permanently beyond his reach. Emerson was outside of his thoughts. Everything in his life was replaced by a small one room apartment with a bed and a television. His band kit was distributed amongst band members to whom he owed money. His guitar survived, but his nights were more filled with gun fights than the Rattle and Hum of U2.

Some would wonder how does this boy of 20 fit into the scenario of an abused child. Many have suffered at the hands of someone like him. Many in fact did suffer at his hands. Yet so many found something in him that welcomed the assistance and support he wanted. For some, he was a user. For many others, he was a deprived child with no paternal role model or education throughout his life. And the only model he understood was exactly the model he replicated. Dreams and success followed by crisis. An utter inability to hold on to a sincere relationship.

There will never be that day when a child deserves to sacrifice his education for the loss of a deserting parent. There will never be a day when institutions of power, the government or the church, can substitute passive acceptance for the resulting problems of a life so inherited. The opportunities of success wasted by Omar were not results of no dream or desire. They were opportunities lost on misguided appetites and unfaithful relationships. Could education have changed this? Perhaps not by classwork. But by class oversight, quite probably.

In the end, we will call Omar abusive. Verbally and physically bullying. Perhaps even his promiscuity abused the dreams, lives, and health of many innocents. His behaviour certainly abused employers, family and friends who went beyond every extreme to create and fulfill his dreams. Perhaps every effort to help went astray. Perhaps they were never going to succeed. But not until we rescue the child can we create the adult. Anything otherwise is to surrender every child to abuses of every kind.

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When All Else Fails …

It was 8 a.m. and already the street was a live and moving canopy of color meandering so slowly down and back. It was constantly pushing, crawling and pausing as if each muscle drew in energy for the next movement. Yet there was no beginning and no end and though Ren was an active participant in the process, it was a force of it’s own making. Bumped and jostled by others constantly, he was still alone in this field of tightly packed, loosely connected people.

At 16 years old Ren already felt like an old man who had witnessed lifetimes in only a couple of years. Although he had only the clothes he wore and the food he could pirate, he worked long night shifts for a place to sleep and the hope to soon rejoin his mother. While the streets were lined with sellers of produce, fish and fruit; while everything was performed tediously by hand by hundreds of laborers; Ren divided the pittance he earned and the few dollars he begged between food for mama and paying for his education. Many of the children in this street were brought into the world in poverty and hunger, Ren was sold into it.

Like the tongue of a patient snake, while two elderly women bartered with a fruit vender, Ren thrust forth his hand, grabbed a papaya and withdrew stealthily back into the crowd. As his fingers peeled away at the fruit, his eyes watched everywhere for both saints and sinners who cared little for his plight. “Was there peace in life?” he wondered. He had long since given up on justice. The money for which he was sold was also his ransom. Ren found his way through the milling crowd to a fountain near the cathedral where he could sit in the dust to finish his dinner.

“How many nights have I slept on these steps” he thought while watching priests and nuns, pilgrims and poor, prayerful and preyed upon disappear into the cathedral only to reappear later unchanged. How many times had he been kicked and prodded by the same visitors to disappear? “Blessed are the poor ..” he recited quietly. He paused. His mind wandered off and came back. “For you are my rock O Lord” he prayed. He knew, better than any, that trusting in men was worse than a proud but brittle reed.

Ren rose and returned to the many-colored robe that sprawled between himself and his employer’s home. She owned many homes. In many names. In each house was one room with computers and cameras every eight feet apart so that Ren and his child co-workers could feed the shallow appetites of the world’s masses. In another there was dorm space for enough for ten boys to sleep in shifts with a toilet off to the corner. A third room had little more than running water and an electric hot plate for the boys to heat what food they found or the employer would provide. The last room was that of the employer or one of her siblings who assisted in managing the family business.

There was nothing in his step that permitted or even suggested a joyful reunion with fond friends. The trek was not long, but slow. The friends were close, but not so friendly. The work was humiliating and the boss a penny-pinching, uncaring woman of callous expectation and brutal physical demeanor. More frequently than not Ren was rewarded with physical punishment sometimes administered by the boss’s brothers. For poor job performance, Ren was made to be the housekeeper and his bed was placed beside the toilet. Even the boys were encouraged to abuse him. “Blessed are the meek …” he recited like a mantra.

As he walked towards home, Ren thought of Thomas. He smiled. A big, endearing, heart-rending smile. His school friends knew nothing of his life and home. Still they helped him, some even fed him and permitted him to sleep in their home. Deprived of facts, they received everything good that resides in the soul of a man. He talked momentarily aloud, as though Thomas was beside him listening. Many nights after sharing a meal, Ren and Thomas went off to bed laughing at the silliest of things. They chatted together or with classmates through a computer belonging to Thomas’ father until weariness or mama drove them to bed.

“Remember the day ..” he began. He stopped midway through his conversation and unknowingly permitted himself the luxury of tears. They were brief and secret. But they burned on his cheeks as they welled in his eyes. “Why did you leave me, Thomas? Why did you take him from me?” He continued walking. Red eyed. He raised his hands and rubbed his eyes, blinked several times and continued quietly. “I am with you always …” he said. And to himself, he continued secretly “A friend is a friend for life.”

It was now 10 a.m. and Ren was growing weary. In only eight hours he would have to go back online or spend the night cleaning house. He turned away from the crowds onto a side street leading out of town into the unpoliced hillside. “They shall rise up with wings like eagles ..” he thought as he followed the road up and up into the hills. The chatter grew more distant, the colors more singularly verdant. Homes were more sparse, many were merely well-constructed straw roofs. “How lucky I am! My mama sacrificed everything to keep me in a good home and close to my school” he thought as he approached a gathering of cement-walled homes.

Faces were growing more familiar and simultaneously more cold. Ren reflected on Thomas and a small smile attempted to emerge. Two boys, age 16 and 19, turned their heads away as they walked past. Ren knew the older boy to be the thief who searched the house daily for savings or valuable purchases any of the boys were hiding. He felt no embarrassment or dismissal since he had learned to feel nothing in the house. A stoic smile remained on his lips as his mind transported him to classrooms and classmates squeezed into his routine when the boss permitted.

Weary and bored after eight numbing hours of pretended affection and pleasure, satisfied by the only meal he would have today, Ren entered the house that served as his home and work. He acknowledged the three boys working and exchanged passing words reassuring one of them he would not oversleep. He passed on to the dorm room and unrolled the mat that served as his bed. It would not take long for sleep to carry him away. The two boys who worked his shift were already asleep. His eyes closed and his mind took one last journey. “Good night mama. I won’t stop till I have the ransom money and prison fees. I miss you and love you so much.” Gradually sleep overcame him. The accumulated stresses of his young life slowed and faded into dreams. Dreams into realities. Realities into hope. And again, there was peace.

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The future is our children. We must insure always that our Kids Have Rights too!

A simple web search will reveal on a daily basis that kids surrender or have rights stolen in hundreds of ways. They are sold in slavery to employers, to foreign countries. They live in the most unimaginable situations. Poverty, hunger, homelessness. The child is the provider of the family. They are seized and forced into the military. They are abused sexually, emotionally, physically, and mentally.

Then we think the adults who have done the abuse will always be punished. Frequently they are not. They are not even looked for in many parts of the world. And even if they were behind bars, the kids are scarred for life by unwanted memories. And then we wonder why crime continues. Or does not diminish. Or leadership is ineffective.

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