Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Stolen camera, and stolen youth

My camera was stolen last Friday morning, right before I left for two days of camping in the jungle. It was sort of my fault- I left my bag out unattended on Cornerstone's front porch for about five minutes. That's more than enough time for an opportunistic thief to run away with something as valuable as a gringo's camera.

The stomach punch of the whole situation is that we have a pretty good notion of who stole it. The guy has ties to Cornerstone- his wife receives free services from us. Apparently that's not enough to keep him from stealing from the people who are offering him charity.

Two months in Belize is not nearly enough time to understand the realities of the social problems here nor the complexity of their underlying causes. But the more we experience, the more we learn. Most people here are wonderful. They understand the value of such things as community, hard work, education, honesty, integrity, etc. We have been blessed to meet many of these people, especially through working with Cornerstone, and it is so inspiring to meet such enriching individuals in such an impoverished place.

On the other hand, there is a small but growing segment of the Belizean population that is deeply mired in a shady underworld of crime, sexual abuse, violence, and drugs. It is a small country consisting of small communities, so it is possible to view the struggle between positive and negative social forces pulling on the Belizean people on a daily basis.

I know a child here, a sweet young girl with one of the warmest smiles I have ever known, who was born into such a terrible household of poverty and addiction that her own mother tried to sell her for drug money. There are men here who are so twisted by crack and booze that they'll steal from their own brother, or rape a child, or beat a woman senseless for their own edification. A little girl told me yesterday, with the fiercest look in her big brown eyes, that she'll never let a man "knock" her. That wasn't a bland repetition of something she learned in school. That was a ten-year-old's conviction that the history she's grown up with in her own family will never be repeated in her own life.

You can almost begin to read a child's story from his face after a while. Any child anywhere in Belize will dazzle you with his sweetness, energy, cleverness, and creativity. But even to an eye as untrained to the signs of a child's welfare as mine, the differences between the children of "happy" homes versus "broken" homes are striking. Some kids are innocent, and boundlessly joyful. Others are guarded, distrustful, and fearful. The less fortunate kids are often rotten to each other, and to the adults who try to teach and discipline them. If you try to give them something they will snatch it away greedily as if they've never been given anything before and never will again. They possess a cynicism that no child that young should ever know. Today they are still young enough to lose their fears and worries in a round of play. But as they get older it will become more difficult to hide from the ugly cruelties of their lives, and less likely that they'll be able to prevent the cycle of abuse, neglect, and violence from spoiling the children of the next generation.


Vayman1 said...

So you gonna slap this guy around or what?

Jerry said...

You have to start posting your drawings now. I want pictures!

And go slap that guy around.