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Do you see them?

Photo Source: Valerie Weigmann Instagram

Last week I was in Bangkok, oblivious to the fact that the Ms Universe Pageant was being held and the Philippine beauty Catriona Gray was winning. I don’t care much about pageants, and I didn’t know who she is, but on my return, my social media news feeds were filled with her photos, and the one above struck me most.

Since I started working on children’s programs recently in Cambodia, I am acutely more aware of them now. And despite my long experience in social development, this is the first time I am working in an organization focused on children. I was pleasantly surprised that the new Ms Universe has done some work with children in the slums, and highlighted them in the Q&A.

But what really is the silver lining that Catriona was talking about? Do all children, especially those in the poorest communities get to see that? Do they even get a chance? I wonder how many of the children in Tondo would grow up to achieve their dreams.

While the world is oblivious to the obscure, a lot of times privilege is rewarded. The world loves achievers and winners. Those who have gone to the best schools get the best scholarships, exchange programs, conferences and free training abroad. Those who have had these opportunities achieve things. Those who achieve things win awards. Those who win awards win more awards. And they get more opportunities, better-paying jobs, great connections, even their bank loans get approved to run businesses. They get the backing they need to achieve even greater things for themselves and their communities. I’m not saying they don’t work hard for their success or don’t deserve it, most of them really do. What I mean is that this is the norm. Privilege gives birth to opportunities. Success invites more success.

Early childhood development impacts a child’s success later in life. Studies have found that 90% of brain development happens in the first five years of the child. In Cambodia, for instance, only 35% of children aged three have access to preschool. The same children who do not access such support are the ones at risk of malnutrition. Figures also show 32% of five-year old children suffer from stunting. With lackluster brain development, no access to proper nutrition and education, being at risk from domestic abuse, child labor, and even trafficking, these children’s future is bleak, to say the least.

It’s very rare to see a totally underprivileged child rise up from poverty, make something of herself, and support her family and make meaningful contributions to her community. Such remarkable cases are mostly result of sheer determination and hard work, detours and delays, lots of sweat and tears. Very seldom do they get unconditional support from the institutions that should be giving it to them.

A poor child, for example a differently-abled girl, is often forsaken by the state. Almost everybody practically thinks there is no future for her. Have you heard of such a kid being given all possible support for her to be able to achieve her full potential, however limited? Yes, maybe in a few instances. But people like her, marginalized and unwanted, sometimes even by their families, should be the ones receiving full and consistent assistance. They are the ones everybody needs to rally together for to nurture and support. This should be the norm. This is Catriona Gray’s silver lining that would make a better future possible for an at-risk child. Given ample support, they have so much to offer to the world. At least give them a chance. Without this, the poor simply becomes forgotten. And this is how individuals become invisible in the eyes of the world. Don’t let them disappear from your mind and heart.

Please support organizations working for the development of children. You can also donate to my organization here or support the crowdfunding initiative of my colleague Donna Mackenzie here.

Photo courtesy of Let Us Create Futures – Cambodia.
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