This was written thinking of the children I met in the Sirlawan community, and the street children I saw in Davao.
Little hands. Not like the ones in the community. Both sets were dirty – but a different kind of dirty. The community kids’ hands were covered in pen marks from school, beach dirt from retrieving the volleyball, crumbs of rice and the grease of dried fish. No, these little hands were different. Covered in dirt from standing too close to the street, the exhaust and dust creating a glue between little fingers. Covered in the kind of greasy film that comes from not having a bath for too long. Covered in pieces of trash, wrapper foils and crumbs from empty containers, after scavenging through the trash for food.
Little hands. Both reaching out. The community hands reaching out for a signature from the guests who were friendly and carried no threat. Reaching out for one last touch, one last goodbye. Waving excitedly in the air. But this other set of little hands were cupped, held out, hoping to be filled. These little hands moved along with me, pushing themselves in to my line of sight.
Little feet. Not like the ones in the community. Both sets were dirty. But a different kind of dirty. The community feet had dust and mud caught between the straps of their worn sandals. Sandals that were no doubt hand-me-downs, as evidenced by the mismatched and misfit pairs. Their little feet ran through the muddy grass, led them up the stairs to their bare classrooms, nimbly climbed the cement walls to drop down onto the beach that surrounded their community. But these little feet, the other little feet, were as dirty as their little hands. Shoeless. Covered in scrapes and dried blood and dust. They shuffled along the uneven sidewalk beside me, keeping time to my long strides.
Little eyes. So full of hope. Watching their teacher fill the blackboard, following the lines on the pages of the school books they had to pay for themselves. Little eyes that widened in curiosity at the sight of a white woman. Of men who didn’t carry guns. Of strangers who weren’t there to disturb but learn from their community. These eyes that expressed such joy at the simplicity of my signing my name in their notebooks. Different from these little eyes, who couldn’t hold a direct gaze. These little eyes that gathered crust and dried tears in their corners, only looking at you with their head bent down. Little eyes full of shame, despair, fear, hunger.
These little lives. Being shaped by what is around them. Neither is fully secure, neither is rich or fully fed. But one set of little lives at least has an opportunity, a community, a glimmer of hope. While the other set of little lives has only the community of other hungry children, they only have fear that anything they are given will be violently snatched away.
I thought my heart broke that first day, in the community, when I saw these little hands reaching out. But then, my heart broke again when I saw those other little hands reaching up.