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Syrian children at risk of exploitation


After walking along the Mediterranean Sea for about an hour, we decided to sit down on a bench in the shade. We sat and watched the people pass, everyone excited for the perfectly warm day. Through the crowd, a boy around 12 years old walked from person to person asking if they would like a hot cup of coffee, his offer was unacknowledged by many.

In his right hand he carried a pail that held his disposable cups, and strapped over his other arm were two silver coffee dispensers filled with traditional Arabic coffee.

Walking up to my friend and me, he asked if we would like a cup of coffee. We politely declined, but he continued to linger.

Tired from his long day, he plopped down on the empty space beside me.

In Arabic, I asked him his name, and he replied, “Zaki*.” I held a short conversation with him in my broken Arabic and learned that he is from Syria and came on his own across the border. He has been in this country for two months and works every day on the path by the sea serving coffee to passersby.

“Kil Yoom?” Every day? Yes, he replies, every day, from morning to night.

He told me he didn’t have any family here and was living on his own. My limited Arabic wouldn’t allow me to ask any more questions, so we sat in silence and he rested from his work.

After a few minutes, he poured a cup of coffee and handed it to me.

He didn’t want us to pay him, though of course we insisted. He was simply offering this cup of coffee as an expression of friendship, for a moment to tell a bit of his story to someone. Being seen.

As I watched him leave, he weaved in and out of the crowd as though invisible to them. They didn’t seem to care about the little boy who was trying to survive, selling coffee in the heat of the day.

He was not invisible to me.

The children who wander the streets of Lebanon for work cannot go unnoticed. As I walked Hamra Street, a steady flow of children can be seen selling lighters, flowers, lottery tickets, gum, coffee, a shoeshine or facial tissue. They each are selling something for the sake of survival. They have to work at young ages to provide for themselves or their families who are refugees of the three-year ongoing Syrian conflict

As little hands reach out to me for money to purchase their products, I am faced with a heartbreaking reality. I want to hand out money to every child I encounter, but I know that won’t save them. It might help them for lunch or help their family for a while, but it won’t stop the war in their home country. It won’t bring back their missing family members. It won’t protect them from the dangers of this city.

What do we do? These children are the main ones affected by the crises, and they are losing their childhood innocence with each passing day. How are we to respond?

Jesus loved the children. He saw them.

As followers of Christ, may we react similarly. May we see these children not as an unfortunate casualty but genuinely search for ways to meet them as they are reaching beyond their years to survive.

Each day I ask myself how I am to respond to this ongoing crisis, how I am to respond to the great need seen among the children, the women, and the men around me.

I plead that you do the same.

*Names changed for security reasons.

Eden Nelson is a writer for the International Mission Board based in the Middle East.