The least of these my brothers

Jul 4th, 2009 | By | Category: International

A single image to capture a trip?

An encounter thirty minutes’ walk from a tarmac road amongst a cluster of poor houses with mud brick walls and corrugated iron roofs.  Water was two kilometres; electricity was unimaginable.

Can we walk?

“It would take us too long – we must go by jeep”.

And so we had.  Bumping along tracks used only by bicycles and those walking to the road, we had arrived nowhere in particular.

The place was quiet; invisible to the outside world under a canopy of trees.

The intention was to meet with families that had received assistance through a programme of giving farm animals to the poorest; the firstborn of such animals being passed on to another member of the community living in similar circumstances as a way to sustain the programme.

The driver remained with the jeep while the agriculturalist led the way to a series of dwellings, each poorer than its predecessor.

A retinue of children quickly gathered, twenty or more from no more than three households.

A small boy, perhaps five or six years old, stood amongst them.  His eyes were swollen, bloodshot and continually watering.  He would repeatedly rub them with the back of his arm.

“Does he know what is wrong with his eyes?”

The agriculturalist repeated the question to the children.  A boy who declared himself to be the sore-eyed child’s older brother spoke up.  The translation told of the boy’s mother taking him to a community nurse, but the nurse saying the boy must see a doctor and they had no money for such things.

About to leave the community, the crowd had grown.  “Give money”, shouted one child”.

Turning round, I pulled the linings from both pockets to show I had no money with me.  What was in the right pocket was a camera.

“Take picture”, said the same child.  They surged forward to pose, one of them knocking aside the red-eyed boy who fell to the ground, picking himself up to catch up with the others.

It was the single moment that spoke most – the poor and the weak, not having the means to change things, are easily pushed aside by the more powerful.

Later that day, the agriculturalist, unprompted, relayed the story of the child to his boss.  His boss asked which family.

“Tomorrow”, he told me, “I will ask what might be done.  It might be a simple matter”.

Perhaps helping one individual does not change the world, but it is certain that the world will not be changed without respect for the smallest and the weakest.  A Galilean preacher made that point a long time ago.

Leave Comment