There are moments in our travel where our hearts are ripped from our chests. Instead of only skimming the surface of the most beautiful tourist spots, going slowly opens the door for compassionate travel. We recently stopped in a small neighborhood for quick and economical bean and potato tacos.
I saw Pablo leaning against a concrete wall in an alleyway, peering out and watching our every move.
As our meal ended, Pablo darted across the cobblestone street that separated us. In an instant, he started clinging to me as if I were his long lost aunt. Although it was a Sunday, he was dressed in his tattered school uniform. Even in the early summer heat, he wore his red school sweater.
A hug was not enough for Pablo. He then started rubbing his head into my chest, smelling me and tightly wrapping his arms around me making it hard to breathe. At first I thought he was disabled; such affection is not common for a young man of eleven or twelve.
He then started begging for me to take him home.
“I have no parents,” he insisted. “Please! I will be a good boy–only please keep me.”
He looked into my eyes while tears fell from his.
While we had been eating tacos, we had enjoyed delightful conversations with locals. The owner counted our children. “Uno, dos, tres…ocho, nueve?! Are they all your children?”
We always begin that answer with the affirmative. We are indeed one family. Only when asked do we even consider the different ways our children joined our home. The question is most often just simple curiosity as opposed to rude nosiness. I do not feed the latter crowd, but to those with sincere questions we proudly give a brief rundown of who joined us by birth and who joined us by adoption. Our birth children were born in three different countries as well, which adds to the fun.
As Pablo pleaded, the owner of the coconut frond taco stand looked pleased at the prospect. Clearly she had no idea how the adoption process worked. Other locals jumped in,
”He has no mother. He has a father who is rarely home and often violent.”
”I’m sure his father would not mind if you took the boy. He’d never notice he was gone. He would fit right in with your other kids.” An older lady stood by, nodding and smiling approvingly.
The ladies at the taco stand added, ‘’He comes around like the dogs begging for comida (food).”
I am sure that if passports, visas and the mind-numbing paperwork were not a factor, our family would triple in size. I have lost track of how many babies and children we have been offered in our travels and how many little Pablos have asked to come home with us.
This is a part of our travel lifestyle. Travel is not all glamour and resorts. We choose to bring our children into small neighborhoods; we take back roads on purpose. We eat with those who only eat tortillas with a rare side of beans. We play with dirty kids who live on the streets.
Many times, we make no lasting difference. At the end of the day, all we can do is hug a hurting little boy and hope that, together with a hot meal, he will have a happy, lasting lifetime memory. A cup of cool water, given in Jesus’ name, is very often all we can do.
In Pablo’s case, we were able to order a plate of tacos. We also paid Marisa, the owner of the taco stand, for Pablo’s next month of tacos. Marisa’s story is unique in itself. As a christiano (non-Catholic Christian), she has paid a high price to follow her God. We were able to connect Pablo with a member of a local church. That church will help provide a school uniform and follow up with him.
While we believe that there can be a level of freedom in being poor, by American standards, we will never forget the harsh reality of life for little boys like Pablo. Many times, travel reveals a new perspective: those considered “poor” are sometimes the richest people on earth in family and faith.
We will, however, never forget the awful stories of visiting very young prostitutes in the Philippines, hungry child-field workers in Mexico, or Belizean families with no protection from the rain. These stories change us. They shape our children.
A broken heart is a part of our family travel. It is a part of the worldschool education we have chosen for our children. Compassionate travel adds a dimension of understanding missed by the textbooks and travel mags.
Has your heart broken for the hungry and hurting? Do your children know children who long for a family? who go to sleep hungry? Consider adding compassionate travel to your itinerary. Choose a service project or volunteer work in a developing country for your family’s next vacation.
Has your family participated in compassionate travel? We would love to hear your stories. Leave us a comment. If you liked this post please share it, pin it or tweet it. Thanks!