The children that live ‘down the well’

“One first-world baby stuck at the bottom of a well generates more heartfelt anxiety than the 100 million children trapped on the streets of the developing world ever will.”
That’s a quote from Dr. Chi Huang, a founder of Kaya Children International, that I read in Cycling Home from Siberia by Rob Lilwall. Many of you will recognize the reference to a baby named Jessica, who became famous in 1987 when she fell into an 8-inch well in the backyard of her Midland, Texas, home. It took rescuers 58 hours to free “Baby Jessica” from the well casing, where she was trapped 22 feet below the surface.
Lilwall follows Dr. Huang’s quote with this commentary: “The 100 million children in the developing world ‘living down the well’ include children who sleep on the streets with no one to look after them; it includes the children who are sex slaves in brothels; the children who work in grim factories for incredibly low wages; and the children who die in huge numbers from starvation or easily curable diseases.” Some of those children were met by Lilwall as he cycled through places like the Philippines:
Sixty feet ahead of us three boys are leaning against a wall. They watch us approach. They recognize Craig and are pleased to see him, and he speaks to them calmly in Tagalog. The boys stare at me and seem to be asking Craig who I am. They wear ragged T-shirts and shorts and have infected wounds on their legs. The pupils of their eyes are dilated. In their hands they clutch balls of tissue, which they periodically hold up to their noses and sniff.
“They’re inhaling glue,” Craig says, looking at them sadly. “It’s cheaper than food and suppresses their appetite. It is a way for them to escape the pain, but over time it will destroy their immune system and give them brain damage. Drugs, crime, and violence are daily experiences for these children.”
Together, the boys and I follow Craig farther into the cemetery. Rounding a corner of tombstones, we see many more children, though these seem to be too drugged up to notice us. Some of them are young, maybe five years old. Several are asleep, lying on top of the gravestones in the burning morning sun. A young teenage girl shares one slab with a pale, feverish-looking baby. When I ask Craig why the children live here, he says that at least in the cemetery they are usually undisturbed. He says that some are from very poor families whose parents have thrown them out, some are orphans, and many have been so badly abused at home that they ran away. Behind the graves, I see a ten-year-old girl sitting alone in the shade. Her elbows are rested on her knees, and she is staring forward into space. Her eyes are empty. Something about her gaze makes me think not of a child, but of an eightyyear-old who is tired of life.
We cannot do everything, but we can do something. One way to do something is to contact New Directions International, a ministry in our own backyard that is helping to meet the physical needs of thousands of children in developing countries. Ask them about child sponsorship or about their Feed the Hunger program that can come to your church or community group and help you pack nutritious meals for pennies that will then be delivered to hungry children around the world.
Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”

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