The trash kids

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{This is the second installment in my Reflections from Cambodia series.  For part one, click here}

They stand solemnly, bare toes covered in red dirt. They have feet roughened by constant exposure to the weather and elements. And from the fact that there is nothing to protect them except flimsy flip flops. I can tell that they don't really protect the boys' feet. Their skin is still battered, with scabs and scars evident.

My eyes settle on their faces. Their skin shows their youth, but their eyes reveal that they have lived more in their young lives than some adults live in their 70 years. What precious faces they have. They cannot be more than eight. I start to wonder why this duo isn't in school but then I realize the answer is already clear - their families are depending on these little ones to bring home recyclables to sell, as well as money. Probably like they do every day of the year. Probably as they have done since they were old enough to toddle around on two feet.

Their heads turn occasionally, trying to spy a tourist with an empty plastic bottle. Their faces are almost unreadable. Almost void of all emotion.

Almost, but still I catch a glimmer of feeling. A tiny sliver of light enters their countenances as a Chinese tourist walks over to the trash can. The two of them, they lean back and look up, eyes pleading, grimy hands reaching out. The tourist hands them his trash. One man's trash, another man's treasure. I've always heard that saying. I believe it as I watch these two boys.

My heart dips and I yearn to take them in my arms and tell them of the big, bright hope of Jesus.

Yet, the language barrier stops me. I sit there, praying and longing to make a difference - even a small one - in their lives. To give them something that would convey my heart. I look around at my belongings. I have no food. I have no plastic bottles. I have no words in the Khmer language on my tongue. My friend's eyes meet mine. We are both thinking the same thing.

We cannot see this and do nothing.

We both start speaking aloud. What can we give? We dig in our wallets and each pull out a Cambodian bill. It's not much, but I know we need to give. We have to do something.

We walk over to the boys. They don't know what we are doing. We obviously don't have any trash in our hands, yet we walk directly towards them. I smile to show the boys we are friendly. They stare.

As we near, my friend and I pull out our bills and say it's for them. Confusion flitters across their features. We aren't giving them a used water bottle. We aren't yelling at them, telling them to leave.  Instead, we are giving them money and being friendly. As I place the money in one boy's hand and my friend does the same to the other boy, smiles split their faces.

Their smiles are so big I wonder - when was the last time I saw gratitude like this?

I crouch down to their level and I reach out my hand for a high five. They each give it, beaming. I know we just made their day. Their week. Perhaps even their month.

Their faces of gratitude stay with me. Those huge smiles. Those eyes brimming with joy.

And I just know - I have to go back to Cambodia.


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