Children of a Lesser God

7 commentsBeirut,Children

CHILDREN ON ACHRAFIEH HIGHWAY • Click on the slideshow for a larg­er view.

Five play­ers sit around the table as the game begins. They each toss in their antes and are dealt their cards. The play­ers exchange blank glances which hide their joy and fear. Guesses are made. Bluffs. Calculated risks. Rash moves. And final­ly the cards are laid face up on the table. The win­ner col­lects the pot and the oth­ers assess their loss­es. This is a game of cun­ning and con­trol, of metic­u­lous plan­ning and pure luck. And all five play­ers get their share of each.

Also in the room is anoth­er group, but they’re only allowed to watch. These are the spec­ta­tors, and their game is played by proxy. And then there are those not allowed into the room at all. Their fates are decid­ed in absen­tia, with the results hand­ed down to them like a sen­tence. This is the group I think of when I see the street chil­dren of Beirut.

From my car win­dow I watch them with a mix­ture of relief and guilt, pity and dis­gust, anger and despair. Relief and guilt that I’m more for­tu­nate. Pity and dis­gust that these wretched chil­dren are allowed to walk the streets and smear my wind­shield with their grimy hand­ker­chiefs as they pre­tend to wipe it clean. Anger that they ruin my day (albeit briefly) with their insis­tent beg­ging and whin­ing. And despair at a gov­ern­ment that does so lit­tle to change all that.

But now I real­ize this: relief, guilt, pity, dis­gust, anger, despair — all those are feel­ings, not actions. They have me sit­ting in my car, win­dows rolled up of course, react­ing as long as the traf­fic light is red — and Heaven knows in this city that could last a while — but then lit­er­al­ly mov­ing on when it turns green.

So I return to that card game. I may not be a play­er yet, but I am a keen spec­ta­tor. And I am in the room. And even if my game is played by some­one else, I have a say in its out­come. Rather than turn a deaf ear to the mass­es out­side hus­tling to get in, or worse turn a blind eye to the silent shad­ows in turn being hus­tled by them, I’m pulling off my pok­er face of relief and guilt.

Whether you’re involved or would like to be involved in projects, char­i­ta­ble or oth­er­wise, to help chil­dren of any walk of life, I wel­come you to con­tact me or post a com­ment here and let’s pool our efforts.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Samsam May 3, 2010 at 9:25 pm

I wish the government could do something to give a shelter to these kids. It breaks my heart every time I see them knocking on my car's window or sticking themselves to fancy cars as they were taught to do.

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Meedo May 3, 2010 at 9:53 pm

The problem is that the streetwalking industry is caught in a Catch 22 situation. If you give these children money it encourages the industry and aggravates the situation. And if you don't, it impoverishes it and leads to the same result. Clothes or other donations work a little better, but since the children only get rewarded when they bring back hard cash, I wouldn't want to imagine what their punishment might be when they don't.

The only solution is, as you say, for the government to either make it illegal or to give them shelter. It is unable and/or unwilling to do either.

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Meedo May 4, 2010 at 8:16 am

test

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Corinne May 4, 2010 at 8:42 am

Thx for the blog post on this topic Meedo. Everytime I see them on the streets it breaks my heart. I always gave money in the beginning but everyone warned me not to. It is such a frustrating situation and issue that just doesn’t seem to have a clear solution aside from building awareness. Which I hope your images can help=) Also, the initiative has to come from the government to try to help these children and not allow this, it is not in any way acceptable to have these children weaving in and out of traffic!

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meedo May 4, 2010 at 12:46 pm

test

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nouraidriss May 4, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Meedo, your slide show is incredible...

Very painful to watch, although we see them every day!
I feel exactly the same, the disgust after they wiped my window, the guilt for having felt it, another kind of guilt after i have decide NOT to give them money because that would encourage them to beg. One time, i parked my car, and got them burgers from the Mc Do on Ain el Mreisseh. And kept on feeling guilty, because as u said, what will happen to them when they come home without the cash???
... See More
I think the problem is that most of them r not Lebanese, that is why the gvt isn't taking action to help them. As if they r nobody's responsability.

(Corinne come back!!!!!)

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Meedo May 5, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I agree with your last statement and that might even be the core of the problem... the fact that these children are mostly non-Lebanese. In fact last Christmas when Corinne organized a group to distribute gifts to these children, her project was criticized for being targeted towards non-Lebanese.

What you say is very true, and to play the devil's advocate for a second, even if that were the case the responsibility still falls on the government's shoulders to do something about it because these children are on the streets of Lebanon and the people being affected by the situation are Lebanese.

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