One broken bed for too many children
The six children had nothing, and all I could give them were candy canes. I felt stupid for giving them candy when I could see their poverty and see they needed so much more.
Earlier in the day, I had met all the children of the soup kitchen, and I knew they were poor. It looked like their clothes had never been washed. Half of them didn’t wear shoes. Their skin was covered in dirt splotches. The girls’ hair was in a tangled mess, and leaves were stuck in some of them.
I could see their skinny bodies and the way they stuffed the sandwiches in their mouths. None of them complained about the taste. For many of them, the soup kitchen provided their only food each day.`
It didn’t quite sink in, though, how poorly the children lived until I entered one of their houses. The six brothers and sisters and their mother possessed only one small cot for a bed. That bed was broken. There was nowhere else to sleep. All the children had was the empty, dirt floor in which to curl up.
I have never seen a house so bare. In the larger room, the unsteady bed lay in one corner, a heap of branches in the other and a mound of dirty clothes were placed on a little ledge by the bed. A baby’s (toddle walker) sat alone. The other room had about 10 bowls. That was it.
The only running water the house would ever get was when it rained and water came through the holes in the roof.
The house wasn’t even their own. They were renting it. In the home we had visited before this one, the mother had said she constantly worried about paying the 500 lempira, or about $26, for each month’s rent.
That’s so much money that sometimes we think we’re going to have to leave the house, she had said.
Jenny has seen lean-tos made out of sticks along the road. The lucky people, if you can call them that, salvage cardboard or tarps and weigh their shelter down with rocks.
The oldest sister in this house, at 11 years old, held her one-year-old baby brother in a motherly fashion. Another three-year-old brother stood at her side. She hadn’t gone to school since the first grade because she had to take care of her younger siblings. Their mother spent each day at work.
That morning I had passed out little hair bands to many of the girls at the soup kitchen. I noticed she had them in her hair already. She had no other personal possessions that I could see.
I had also given the soup kitchen boys little rubber snakes to play with. The girl’s brothers still held the toys in their hands.
“All seven of you share that one bed?” Jenny asked the girl through an interpreter.
No, she said. Some of us sleep on the floor.
When the reality sunk in, Jenny began to cry. She had to turn her back to the children and eventually walk out of the room. The side of the house held her up as she finished crying.
She has a daughter the same age as the little girl.
Jenny walked back to the group and immediately asked the interpreter how much it would cost to buy a bed for the family. Her foundation had no money left, but she was willing to reach deeper into her own pocket to scrape up enough money to give the children a place to rest their heads.
We must give them something, she said. Anything would be better than what they have now.
To ease the pain of their hearts, Jenny and her team promised themselves to see what they could do about giving a bed to that family. Many houses needed beds, but the thought was too overwhelming. They had to take it one family at a time.
As I placed candy canes in their hands and saw their faces light up, I felt ashamed for not giving them more. At home, I have so much. Candy would not take care of their needs. Candy would not fill their stomachs. Candy didn’t give them a place to sleep. But it was all I left them.
I buttoned my jacket and waved goodbye to the kids. It was going to be a cold night, I could tell. I prayed their two blankets could help keep them warm.