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Street Kids, Car Thiefs, and Glue Sniffing

I witnessed a very sad sight last night. I had just arrived in Riobamba after spending 9 hours on a bus back and forth from quito to finally get my visa. On friday night Riobamba is always alive as hundreds of young people walk up and down the main Avenida; in and out of restaurants, bars, and clubs; drinking and having carefree fun with friends.

I popped into a friends bar which is decorated with bulls heads besides the framed photos of bull fighters delivering the coup de grace in the bulls final battle. A man parked his car 15 metres from the bar and walked in, ordered a beer, took a sip and began chatting to the bar tender. A moment later a boy selling flowers approached him but the man refused the flowers and something in his stomach must have said ‘go check your car’

The man walked outside and in the two minutes it took to order the beer another boy had broken into the car and was busy stealing the radio. The man yelled for help and ran to the car to catch the thief and a crowd quickly gathered round as other men blocked the doors and trapped the him inside. They rang the police then began to taunt the boy inside whose eyes were wide like a cornered animal desperate to escape his fate.

The other boy selling flowers as a distraction had disappeared so the mobs wrath was centered on the one in the car who had locked the doors from the inside to prevent the owner from breaking in and violently venting his anger on the boy.

My friend remarked to me that the boy looked like he was high on Glue, used commonly amongst street kids because it is dirt cheap and helps suppress pangs of hunger and the biting cold while making the sniffer feel euphoric. Glue also removes inhibitions and fear but long term use severely damages brain cells destroying any hope the kids will lead a normal life as adults.

It took 45 minutes for the police to arrive (even though the police station was 5 blocks away) and the boy looked relieved as they pushed back the mob and escorted him to the police station. Nothing in the car was damaged and the men in the mob laughed as the boy was lead away.

I couldn’t help but feel deeply sorry for the scared little boy and somewhat horrified at the mobs behavior that, in a better world, should have been more understanding and compassionate towards him even if he was trying to steal.

Martin Luthar King once said:
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar, it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

I believe that this quote also applies to circumstances like this and its only when we seek first to understand the reasons why some kids are more prone to substance abuse and stealing instead of just outright blaming them for doing wrong will society become a fairer community for all and these incidents can be better prevented.

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