Five days ago, I wrote a blog post about a child I’ve been seeing on my way to work who I was afraid was being abused.
To recap, every day as I go to work I see a woman who covers her face with a face veil pushing a five or six year-old child in a wheelchair. The child is always asleep. Always very limp. Extremely and deathly thin. Face always covered. No way to recognize either the woman or the child.
I was seriously concerned that the child was being drugged – possibly even kidnapped – and used for the purpose of begging. I began tweeting and facebooking about the couple to try to figure out what to do. I was told by many people that it actually does happen in Egypt that children are kidnapped and drugged for this purpose.
Among the many people that contacted me as a result of my social media messages was a young woman named Mai who works with the Egyptian branch of an international NGO called Save the Children. She had seen my tweets about the child and wanted to learn more. We spoke over the phone. She listened to me as I expressed my angst over the child’s well being. And she explained to me what I could do in order to start the process of helping this child. She told me that the first step is to call the national hotline for children, 16000. She also told me that she would contact a friend of hers who works in an NGO that she believes will be able to help.
I called 16000 and filed a report. I was given a report number and told I could use it to follow up. My report was given to an Egyptian NGO that works in the field of helping street children. This much I know.
At the same time, Mai’s friend had been in touch and said she would be consulting a lawyer to discuss the options. When I decided that enough days had passed since I reported the issue and found that the child was still being pushed in a wheelchair by this woman, I tried to follow up with 16000. When I tried calling 16000, the line was continuously busy. So I called Mai.
Mai called her friend and learned that they were intending on conducting a field visit to the woman and child the very next day. One of the team members, Riad, called me for details. He promised me that they would find out what the case was and that they would do their best to help.
This afternoon I heard back from them, God bless them. Riad told me that they visited the woman and spoke with her at length. The child is a young girl – the woman’s daughter according to Riad – who suffers from a disease that causes atrophy of the muscles. Riad spoke with the girl. She was awake but she is not well. He asked her to get up and walk. She walked a few short steps but wasn’t able to do more. The mother carries food and water for her in her purse. She covers the child’s face to protect her from flies.
Riad’s words had already made me feel so much better about the situation. But he went on to explain to me that even though the child is not kidnapped and is not drugged, it is still wrong for the mother to expose her every day to the streets for the purpose of begging. Riad explained that their NGO, the Egyptian Association for Societal Development الجمعية المصرية لبناء المجتمع, plans to send a social counselor to the woman. The social counselor will study her case and accordingly find ways to provide her with options to support her children without taking them out to the streets. The NGO, for example, has a program that gives micro-grants to people to start small projects. They will continue to follow up this case and provide the woman with options, and if she does not work with them to take her daughter off the street, they will look into the possibility of taking the child away from her mother and putting her into child care as a final option.
During the past week and from the many communications I received about this particular case, I have learned a tiny bit about the issue of children in Egypt who, for one reason or another, live or work on the streets. “They don’t like to be called street children,” Mai told me. I will not call them that. I’ve learned that there is much that needs to be done to save the children in Egypt. I’ve learned that there are many NGOs working on the ground with the intent of helping as many children as possible. I’ve learned that our system in Egypt requires much more support than it is currently getting in order to have a stronger impact. I’ve learned that we need to create awareness among those less fortunate but even more importantly among the more fortunate who are able to give a helping hand. We need stronger legislation. And we need implementation of legislation.
I’ve been invited to visit several NGOs to learn more about the work that is being done and the help that is required to improve that work. In the coming months, I fully intend to make those visits and to write about them. Perhaps even help some of those NGOs get the media attention they deserve.
My point is this: don’t walk by a child you believe needs help and turn a blind eye. There are ways to get help to that child. But the child won’t be helped unless someone sees him. Really sees him. Open your eyes. See the children. Save a child. Because you CAN.