Last week we had children’s day, a national holiday similar to Christmas here in Mozambique. For the day we took over 50 street boys to the local water park. The day was fun and carefree. The boys were goofy and hyper, like any other kids would be if they got to spend a day at the water park with all of their friends. During that time it was easy for me to forget the lives that these boys live every other day.
When we got back to masana after a big tasty lunch, the younger boys lined up and received presents filled with radios, flashlights, tee-shirts, snacks and candy. A little bit later the older boys lined up to receive the same presents. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the leaders were giving the little ones a five minute head start to get as far away as they could.
With such a wide range of ages on the street, it makes sense that hierarchies are formed based off of strength and age. The younger boys are often beat up and robbed until they hit their growth spurt and get to shift roles. Thus the head start to get a chance to enjoy or hide their gifts before the older boys caught up.
The other day as I was sitting with a handful of boys while they ate their lunch, something expected happened, and then something unexpected followed.
One of the little ones sat down with his milk, rice and fish. Before he got a chance to eat the first bite, the bigger kid next to him (with a bit of a nasty streak) reached over and grabbed a handful of rice and dropped it onto his own plate. The little boy reacted by immediately reaching over to grab his rice back.
The expected ensued.
A plate was flung in the air. A cup of milk knocked over. The little boy ran. The bigger kid followed. One bigger kid tried to hold the other off. He pulled away and caught up with the younger. A loud smack, a sharp cry and the little boy was left standing amidst scattered rice, hurt, hungry and humiliated.
The bigger kid was sent away for the day and the little one sat back down at the table with no food or drink.
Then the unexpected.
One of the older boys I’m closest with took one more bite of his fish and then casually passed his nearly full plate over to the wounded kid. He bashfully started eating. Then some of the other kids picked up his empty cup. One by one, four or five different boys poured a little bit of their own milk into his cup until they all had the same amount left to drink.
There was no show to their generosity, no expectation on his part. It was just genuine brokenness being met by genuine understanding and love.
It’s so easy for the world to look at these boys and see young addicts and thieves, hopeless causes. But when you take the time to get to know them, when you watch them when they dont know they’re being watched, sometimes they surprise you. Sometimes they teach you. There is so much good to be fostered in these young kids. They aren’t hopeless causes. They’re just lost boys, learning how to interact with the world and each other under terrible circumstances