(The fact that this is from Halloween is a testament to my adaptation into Ecuadorian culture)
Witches, tarantulas, haunted houses. Yes, all perfectly scary, but this Halloween nothing is scarier than “BIG PROBLEMS”. A month ago, another fellow and I had a conversation about how Global Citizen Year’s motto should be this phrase because each fellow is investigating big problems with taunting solutions like health, education, the environment, etc.
Our conversation drifted to what we consider the BIGGEST problem facing the world today, and I brought up a fact I had heard before that “99% of children with disabilities around the world do not have access to education”. That is scary. But even scarier were our responses to this.
After discussing the shock factor of this fact, our conversation concluded with the idea that this issue is overlooked because it is a first-world issue. In the United States, our economy and institutional structure is stable enough to worry about these issues, but for a developing country, like Ecuador, what are the incentives to educating the disabled when their country is still agriculturally focused and standing on an arguably unstable government?
One “incentive”: while these children have a slower learning curve, they are still children…human beings–human beings who feel the neglect of being in that 99%.
Instead of trick-or-treating this Halloween, I instead went door to door visiting the disabled children in the jungle. After driving for an hour deeper into the Amazon we reached a house. I saw a girl lying in a box. The girl could not have been more than four or five years old, but she was nine. There was not much more than skin on her bones; her stomach was bloated; and her limbs had bruises from hitting the sides of the box. Her diaper had not been changed for days. The doctor took a look at her matted hair and asked when she was last bathed. “Ayer”, yesterday. Lies. I could see the doctor getting angry now. The aid items from the clinic hadn’t ever been used.
The dentist quickly brushed her teeth with a simple brush. Her gums started bleeding and her mouth was full of blood. They had never brushed her teeth.
This tiny girl of nine has no voice, and I was about to cry for her.
I looked at the lying parents in shock. I could tell that they were scared. Not only because we were there, but every day to take care of her. I was afraid to leave her there.
I didn’t know if I could handle another visit that day, but it was worth it. The second house had a little girl who was seven years old in a family of similar wealth (from what I could tell). I was there for the same amount of time and all I heard was laughs. The little girl could not stop laughing and smiling. Happy little girl. Happy mother. Happy family.
The difference is care. Love is not expensive. I can’t demand that families treat their children with disabilities with all the care they can, but I can tell that it makes the difference.
Back to the question of whether it is worth it or not: I still don’t know. That’s why we have big, scary problems that we have to fix. The experience of visiting these children didn’t exactly change my mind about this issue, but my mind was changed. If we ask ourselves what Halloween is really about then we remember that it is not just about scary things, but it is also about the sweet gifts whether it be chocolate or a new perspective.