Some of the same words and problems keep recurring in our reflections (I guess I need to start tagging them!) – HIV/AIDS, domestic violence and violence against women in general, health care (and its absence), education (and its absence), sexual exploitation, addiction, poverty.
This time, it seems, this litany of misery comes from the lips of the folks who work with the street kids who are at the heart of Bob Gamble’s mission in Odessa, Ukraine. According to Bob’s website, This Child Here:
“The best estimates are 140,000 children live on the streets of Ukraine. In a country with a population of fifty million, it may seem a small percentage, but the number is still staggering. Street children survive by living in groups with their own laws. They carry things, beg, steal, and become prostitutes to make money. They don’t go to school; they have no time, no friends and no documentation. When they are not begging or making money or sleeping, some inject themselves with drug store chemicals or squirt glue into a plastic bag and inhale”
The partner organization The Way Home maintains a website in English, Streetkids, that gives more details about the work being done for and with street kids in Ukraine. This work includes providing housing and education to kids who come in from the streets, and the outreach work of “social patrols” who make rounds providing food, clothing, medicine, advocacy, for kids who haven’t given up on living on (or under) the streets – yet . . .
These children, who range widely in age – the Streetkids website includes a story from a girl on her own since the age of 7 – are at risk for HIV and AIDS because their desperate circumstances contribute both to prostitution and other unsafe sex, and to drug use, with its attendant risks.
This is on top of being at risk for other serious diseases, like tuberculosis, and for conditions – like starvation – that afflict children without adults who care for and about them, and without structures of support that reliably provide food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, and socialization. Even if they want health care, or schooling, they can’t get it without documentation that makes them visible, real, to the state.
Streetkids talks about children who are “escaping” their families. This may mean that homelessness in Ukraine, as in the US, can be a consequence of fleeing violence. [The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates that as many as 50% of the women and children who are homeless at any given time in the US chose homelessness over domestic violence. Do we need to say that these shouldn’t be a woman’s only options?]
What a Hobbesian vision this is: a desperate war of all against all that is how children live when they are fending for themselves as best they can. But it’s not abstract political theory; it is the concrete reality of the lives of some 140,000 children in the one city of Odessa alone. The vision of The Way Home and This Child Here is directly opposed to that hyper-realistic vision, that vision of how things just are (and, according to some sophisticated pundits, always will be). It’s the vision of how things could be, even now, already, when people act out of a different concrete reality – the concrete reality of new life, of redemption, of justice and love.