As we visit children in schools and
kindergartens we see many delightful little ones appearing happy and carefree. However, over the past months, we've also become aware of a dark side; children living in very vulnerable circumstances. Two heartrending examples.
The director of a school, grades one to eight, in the former Mennonite village of Schoenau, told us this story. Recently one of her pupils stole a cell phone belonging to a staff member. Everyone knew he was the culprit, but he would not own up to the theft, even when interviewed by police. Several days later this young boy was found dead; he had hung himself - a horrendous shock to the school and community. The director went on to tell us that cell phones are a bane in her classrooms. Almost every child has one and subtley plays games during class hours. As yet she hasn't been successful in controlling this problem. Obviously there is tremendous peer pressure to owning a cell phone. Since the parents of the deceased child are alcoholics, he had had no hope of acquiring his own. Unlikely as it may appear, cell phones are not considered a luxury, but a seeming necessity. To give some perspective to this issue, it is necessary to understand how much parents are willing to sacrifice to give their children cell phones. This same school director told us that her husband had recently purchased three phones - one for each family member, and had paid almost as much as they had paid to buy their property several years ago. No wonder many men leave their families to earn money in Russia, where they can find better jobs.
The second story. Sasha is a 12 year old who lives with his mother and four siblings. His mother drinks. There are days in which there is no food in the house. Recently Sasha was complaining of hunger and was told to get out and find himself something to eat. Sasha, his younger brother and friend Pavel went in search of metal to sell. It is common to see electrical transformers along the roadsides and they came across one that had been left unlocked. Using both hands, Sasha tried to pull out a metal plate. 6000 volts of electricity shot through his arms and left a 10 cm. wound on his right leg. Pavel ran in fright; the little brother dragged Sasha's unconscious body home. He was taken to the local hospital and not until the next day transferred to the Zaporozhye burn unit. By that time it was too late - both arms were amputated at the shoulder and it is not yet certain whether his leg can be saved. Sasha has already had six surgeries.
Yesterday there was a picnic in the back yard of the Mennonite Centre. Sasha was there wistfully watching the children at play. He has become a very quiet, introspective boy. He attends Larissa and Frieda's children's club and comes to church on Sunday. He wants to live and is asking in-depth questions. We are also deliberating how we can be of help.
It is painfully evident that many children are living at risk and our hearts ache. There are no easy answers. We try to respond at levels possible for us. The bigger picture requires systemic change.