The other night I went for a casual stroll around Phnom Penh. I found a nice little street stall and got some food for $1.25. “F***ing winner!” I thought to myself as I walked away triumphantly. I sat down on a nearby park bench to scoff my Khmer noodles when I noticed out of the corner of my eye a kid who looked no older than 6 slowly drift towards me. He had no shirt or shoes, just a pair or shorts on. He sat next to me and silently and watched me eat my noodles.
Suddenly he screamed so loudly in Khmer it actually made me jump. Of course I had no idea what he was saying but I could take an educated guess judging by the situation and the fact he was pointing at the noodles when he screamed that he was probably hungry.
I looked at him and said, “Sorry little man, but this is mine, I won’t finish it all though so you can have the rest.” knowing he couldn’t understand me but hoping by the tone and the calmness of my voice he could tell that I wasn’t being threatening.
Then after a few more bites I decided that he probably needed the food far more than I did, so I handed the take away container over to him. I then said to be careful, because it was hot, gesturing with my hand to try and communicate that the food was spicy. So I went over to a lady who was selling water and bought a bottle of water for him. I opened it for him just in case he was too weak to open it and left it with him, slowly walking away whilst smiling and waving to imply that it was for him.
Now you would think that I felt good about this right? helping a impoverished child in need?
Not really, and here’s why:
I’m a classic over-thinker, so this situation was on my mind for the entire walk home. Yes, he has food tonight, but what about tomorrow? Am I just prolonging the inevitable? I learned a long time ago whilst travelling that you cannot save the world, and helping this one child for one night may not be beneficial for him in the long run, since he may just be on borrowed time anyway, and in my naivety I could have given him false hope.
However on the other side of the coin, I would always present this scenario to my students in my advanced English classes;
“What if 5 years ago there was supposed to have been a Thai doctor who found a cure for cancer, but because he or she was born in such a poor family he or she was never giving a real chance at life and died of starvation at the age of 4?” Then explaining to them that great people are destined to be great, all they need is that one opportunity and you can bet your bottom dollar that they will take it. However if they are never given a chance in life then they can never possibly survive. I may have given this poor boy that one opportunity. It’s not a full opportunity by any means but he had a full belly for one more night, and you never know he may have needed to get through that one more night before his opportunity was presented to him. If he was never supposed to be someone special then he would probably not take it, but if he is, well; just watch him go…
I guess my point – if I have a point – is that I’m caught in two minds over this; on the surface I have fed a homeless child who needed it FAR more than I did, but if you dig a little deeper It was only one meal. I didn’t save the kid’s life. He still had to go on the streets looking for food the next day. He may even be dead by now. A horrible thing to imagine I know, but that is the grim reality of the situation in third world countries. I suppose my intentions were good, that’s the main thing. I hope the child survives this rough time, because when he does eventually grow up you will know for a fact that he will NEVER take anything for granted…