[OUTLOOK]‘Suffer the little children ...’Life is beautiful even in a tragedy. The children in the pictures published in the photographer Yoon Chu-yung’s book “Peace of the Children” are smiling without a care ― despite the fact that some of them are war victims who have lost limbs to land mines or suffer from exposure to herbicides. Their smiles make the sorrow we feel even more poignant. There are over 6 million land mines still buried in Cambodia. Unless these land mines are removed by experts or set off accidentally by someone who steps on them, they will remain buried forever, an eternal murder weapon. Cambodian children are not the only victims of land mines. Every hour, three people are killed or hurt by land mines around the world. It would take an estimated 1,000 years to get rid of all the land mines.
More destructive to human lives than land mines, however, is poverty. Land mines only go off where they are buried, but poverty spreads. How will this boy who will need to use a crutch for the rest of his life feel about the tyranny and cruelty of the adults who buried 6 million land mines instead of 6 million bags of rice? How will he contain his resentment and anger? If we think that this is a story that pertains only to the poorest countries in the world, we need to look around. In Korea that boasts per-capita income of $10,000, about 200,000 children can’t afford regular meals, and 1 million children live under the poverty line.
It is a terrible shame that poverty among children is even worse than that among adults. The income ratio between Sweden and Korea is less than 3:1, but the ratio of expenditure on children’s welfare grows up to 100:1.
Every installment of the JoongAng Ilbo’s feature, “Children trapped in poverty,” made our heart ache. The article on a 17-year-old diabetic who lives in a basement room with her mother was especially heartbreaking. The article described how the girl turned to her mother, who is also unable to get out of bed because of a serious illness, and asked her, “Mother, I’m so sorry I’m always sick. But why did you make me end up so lonely like this?” What resentment will fill the heart of this girl looking out on society from her dark basement room? Adults are punished when they commit crimes. Why are these children being punished? Their only “crime” is to have met the wrong adults in their lives.
The confession of a 12-year-old girl who suffers from depression is also sad. “I hate it that we are not rich. I need to use my notebooks carefully and the only food I can have with my rice is kimchi and eggs.” In our younger days, eggs were a rare specialty, only eaten on birthdays or on field trips. Since then our economic productivity has made eggs a very humble menu item, but why is our shame growing?
The problem is not that of how much or how little we possess, but the difference of how more or less I have than you. Let’s heal the wounded hearts of our children. We can do this without complicated debates about economic growth and wealth redistribution.
I am not so arrogant as to assume that I can criticize the words of saints. However, I had always felt a slight dissatisfaction with the passage in the Gospel of St. Mark describing the miracle where Jesus fed 4,000 people with seven loaves of bread and a few fish and had seven basket of food left over. I felt that Jesus couldn’t possibly have left his people to starve when He has such an ability. My doubts were put to rest by an essay by an Anglican nun, Oh In-suk, that I read recently.
When the disciples of Jesus asked the people in the crowd whether they had any food with them, everyone thought, “There are thousands of people here. My little morsel of food isn’t going to be enough. If I give it up I won’t be able to eat anything.” So they all hid their food. However, one little child gave up his loaves of bread and Jesus gave a prayer of thanks and blessings. The rest of the people felt ashamed and took out their food to share with others. The miracle was not that food that did not exist before appeared, but that everyone shared the food that they had brought. What a miracle that is!
We are not so poor as to starve our children nor so stingy as to hide our food. Yet we hesitate from stepping forward to help those in poverty because we suppose wrongly that the help that we can give is not needed and that it won’t do much. The JoongAng Ilbo has launched a campaign called WE Start, short for Welfare Education Start, in hopes of helping to correct this misperception. If I pitch in and you pitch in, pretty soon everyone will be helping out in making our own miracle. Let’s use this miracle to dry away the tears of children who’ve never had enough or who’ve never had the chance to learn.
Let’s show our children that their neighbors and society aren’t all cold-hearted and cruel. Give our children the chance to grow like healthy young poplar trees in May.
* The writer is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Joseph W. Chung