A Guest Post by Ms. Sara Migally Cairo, Egypt
I personally dread it. I avoid eye contact. I see that child, hair tangled from years of being on the streets and unwashed, the color of his/her skin is almost unknown because it has been caked by dirt, and don’t get me started on their flimsy clothes completely unfit for the cold winter morning.
If you dare to look into their eyes, you wonder at how persistent they are – they must get a dime out of you, or at least attempt to sell you a pack of tissue that you do not want. And when you don’t give in, they can easily start banging on your windshield and maybe even start swearing at you.
I would always drive off angry, wondering who did this to them, and how can this be happening in the world. I have an inner fight with myself about whether I should have given them money to ‘help’ them, or by not having given it to them; this might discourage them from their current practice and try to find a more honorable way to earn money.
Today I thought about it a little bit more. The person who is doing this to them…is me. I have been contributing to the ugliness of their world on a daily basis, and then I self-righteously wonder how people can grow up to be thieves, rapists, terrorists.
How is this so? I recall watching the author Toni Morrison on the Oprah show and she was talking about her kids, how she learnt that the first thing she must do when she sees them is to smile. She used to see the dirt on their clothes, or the mess of their hair and tell them off or give them instructions, but that only caused strife in the relationship. She learnt with time that if the first thing they see in their parents eyes is that they were happy to see them, everything else will fall into place.
How is this relevant? Let’s consider these children’s daily life. They are met daily by rejections from passersby who struggle just as I do about whether to acknowledge their existence or not. They don’t know what it is like to sleep in comfort, or even in privacy. And I shiver to think about the daily abuse they must see from those closest to them; conditioning them that life is in fact UGLY, and you can only survive through violence, begging, prostitution and all the other things that privileged people don’t have to live with.
This begs the question; do these street children know what being smiled at is? Is ANYONE ever happy to see them?
Consequently I wonder, if in my own capacity, and in your own daily life, we give each street child that comes across our way a smile, even from behind our closed car windows, would it make a difference? Reject their ask for money if you must, but if you did it with a smile, could it change their future?
I don’t know, but I am willing to try, because at the worst it would be ineffective, but it will not hurt.