Tonight we went out for dinner on the Riverfront of Phnom Penh. The Riverfront is a high tourist area, so there are often lots of kids on the street begging and selling books, scarves, and wristbands. As we were walking along tonight, a few kids came along and asked me to buy some things. I started speaking to them in basic Khmer asking their name and age and where their families were. Soon enough, these kids started trailing along behind me.
My two kids turned into a group of five kids between the ages of 5 and 12. Most said that their families were at home. Only one of the kids was attending school. These kids are all out until late hours of the night trying to sell items to foreigners. They are at huge risk of trafficking or abuse out on the streets at this time of night. At an age where they should be being protected and nurtured by parents, they are instead fending for themselves and bringing home the daily income. And for most of them, this is the only life they have ever known.
So as I walked along with my trail of kids behind me, chatting to me and holding my hands, I was reminded of the simplicity of love. For these kids it was just someone to not turn their eyes away, but for someone to stop and simply ask who they are as an individual. They were someone with a name and age and story, rather than just another kid on the streets trying to haggle you to buy something. For that moment, these kids had an identity. And for that moment, someone actually cared.
Love is not always extravagant acts. Sometimes it is simply being there, language barriers and horrible environments aside. Sometimes love is just basic human connection.
These kids trailed me for a good five minutes. And then we walked past a restaurant full of foreigners and they all got to work, mingling among the tables selling to tourists. These kids had to make their living so they had something to take home to either their parents or their begging pimps.
It's easy to ignore the faces, to see just another kid. It's also easy to become overwhelmed and have no idea of how to help when this problem is so pervasive in this nation. But sometimes it is a smile, a simple question, a short walk holding their hands and listening to their stories. Maybe those simple acts of love are a good start. They identify that child as someone; someone with a past and a future.
So I will continue to practice simple love, even if that is all I can do. I trust that this makes a difference for these kids, that they feel like they have an identity, if only for a moment. I trust that this simple act will not be forgotten. I trust that all my actions in this world count; that I am making a difference.