As we handed out food to the homeless and marginalized in one of Olongapo's city parks, I came across a young boy of no more than 10 of 11. He was frantically scrambling through a massive green garbage bin and pulling out the plastic bottles. I haven't seen recycling plants around here, althought people claim they are present. The child was furious in his quest, not stopping for anything and ripping past any and all sorts of filth.
We came up beside him and gently asked if he was hungry.
He didn't hear us… or pretended not to hear us.
We asked again.
This time, he slowed, turned his head and looked at our bags of bread, juices, and lollies. He licked his lips, but then ripped his gaze from the food towards a point behind us. I turned my head and there stood 3 beefy looking guys sneering at the child. I turned back to the boy and the look of fear on his face was astonishing. He jumped back into the bin, and began once again to stuff plastic bottles into his huge sack.
I looked once more behind me at the men standing there and they simply smiled sweetly and shrugged. Family sending out the child to beg? Gangs? What kind of precious cargo are plastic bottles anyway? Whatever the relationship this boy had to these men, it was one of obvious terror and my spirit was deeply troubled. The boy was nimble and quick at his task, but poorly clothed and by the brief look in his eyes, very hungry.
What to do?
When someone's life is in danger because of our good works, when is the time to step back, and when is the time to step up? Are the two mutually exclusive? Whatever the case, we backed off. If the child was living under that much terror from these 3 men simply at the offer of food (and thereby a break from his work), how much punishment would he receive had he accepted our innocent offer?
As we wandered around the park, I spied the boy a few more times diving through other dumpsters. The same gaggle of guys keeping a close watch over him were never far away. Maybe there was a promise of food or cash at the end of the day for the boy should he collect as certain quota of plastic… I cannot say for sure.
Whatever the drive, it felt like I had stepped between the power of the desparate and the nightmare of the young. It was not a place forgiving to Light.