I’ll Cry in Public for You

I realise that my last blog post touched on the topic of giving. However, unfortunately it is a problem too large to simply be resolved by the thoughts of a single post. Furthermore, being immersed in a culture so rife with need, injustice and inequality leads me to believe this is something I am going to struggle and battle with for our entire trip, and well beyond.

Last night we were eating tea at a cheap little restaurant on the street. A boy approached our table to sell us some hand woven bracelets. His name was Chet. He was 10 years old. He said he went to school and his favourite subject was math. We quizzed him on his times tables and he was impressively good. Chet told us his mother made the bracelets and it only took her a minute to make one. It was obvious to me that they were worth very little, and I certainly did not want one. I debated for a while over whether it was right to get one. However, sometimes the entire debate of whether something is logically right or wrong just drives me crazy! Someone once told me that sin is anything that numbs your conscience; that makes you a little less sensitive to the call to do what is right.

So, I am honestly still confused. I am still not sure what I am supposed to do. By giving Chet money am I doing the right thing by supporting this boy and his family? Or am I encouraging his mother to keep him working nights? Cathy was telling us that although schools in Cambodia are officially public schools, due to the fact that teachers don’t get paid enough they often demand bribes from the students in order to let them into their classroom. I just didn’t know what to do. However, I knew with all my heart I wanted to help. So I didn’t even ask for a price. I gave Chet $1 and asked him to pick out his favourite bracelet for me. He seemed very glad and left. At that point I think the situation was okay. In a sense we had blessed Chet by talking to him and engaging with him. Buying the bracelet was simply something extra.

A few minutes later another boy started tapping on my arm, wanting me to buy his bracelets. We tried to talk to this boy, as we had to Chet, but he did not say anything but “Three for one dollar.” Chris told me not to give him money. He was trying to explain to me that Chet had a drive and a motivation that ensured he did not see himself as a victim. However, the little boy at my arm was trying to use pity in order to persuade me to buy his bracelets. Chris was trying to explain that if I did buy one I would be solidifying to this boy the idea that he was a victim.

Honestly, I just could not handle it. I broke into a ridiculous display of tears! I cannot explain it in a way that I believe anyone could comprehend. There was a little boy, tapping at my arm, literally begging me to buy his bracelets, while someone was logically explaining to me why I should not. I ended up just handing Chris my wallet, sobbing for him to please give the boy a dollar.

The next thing I knew I was surrounded by children. They were all touching me and patting me. One girl asked why I was crying. With all my heart I wanted to tell her it was because I loved them, and I physically ached to help them and it broke my heart that I didn’t know how. Chris just said “Because she cares a lot about you.” Another little girl gave me a tissue, which made me want to cry more.

It was the worst my heart has hurt all year, but in some way I hope that there are pieces of good that can come out of it. There were westerners in the restaurant. They all saw me cry and knew it was because I was hurting for the kids. The kids saw me cry. I think there is a possibility it is the first time they realised our lives are not as perfect or glamorous as they believe. I also hope, in some way, they realised it was because I care for them.

I want to help so much and I’m overwhelmed by the pain of feeling that I cannot. I ache, and yearn, and long to be used to heal a pain and fix a problem that seems so much bigger than me that I feel paralyzed in the face of it. I have been pleading with God to somehow use me.

It truly does make me believe in organisations such as Empowering Youth Cambodia, Cambodian Living Arts and Music Arts School that take people like me with so much passion and give us direction.


1 Comment

  1. Emily, we felt exactly that way in Kenya. Though I did not become immune to the poverty and the needs there were times with a breaking heart I had to back away when pressured too much. In Kenya buying a small item can be the difference between food on the family ‘table’ or no food. We had a Kenyan national with us who said much the same things as Chris was saying. I tried to find some sort of balance, that worked for me. Sometimes I got ripped off. i don’t think I ever achieved balance, but wherever possible, I had good conversations with Kenyan nationals and let them know that stories of their poverty and their love would be told.


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