Vacation gave me the opportunity to spend a lot of peaceful, quality time with my kids last week.
That gift seemed even more precious in light of a couple of humanitarian crises involving young people – on two different continents – which continue to dominate the news.
My time with the kids was great. We went to the zoo, a movie, the museum and Dinosaur Valley State Park to see the dinosaur tracks. We even had a water balloon fight in the backyard one day.
We didn’t have to worry about crossing any borders or be wary of gangs or be on the lookout for incoming missiles. Many families, particularly kids, are not so lucky.
The news is filled with stories about unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, crossing our southern border. I cannot imagine how horrible conditions must be for parents to send their children away to an unfamiliar land to escape that situation.
Poverty has long been a cause for children and families to leave these countries in search of a better life, but violence is playing an increasing role.
The three main countries the children are coming from – Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – are ranked first, fourth and fifth, respectively, on the list of countries with the world’s highest murder rates. Gang violence seems to be the biggest threat. Kids are being recruited into gangs. In many cases, the children are faced with death if they do not join.
In the Middle East, it’s hard to look at the images coming from Gaza. No matter who you think is responsible for the violence – Hamas or Israeli leaders – it’s clear that children make up many of the casualties.
I was nearly brought to tears while watching video of a father beside his dead son, pleading with the boy to wake up.
“I brought you a toy,” the father shouted through sobs of overwhelming grief.
My cousin’s wife is a Palestinian-American. Her mother and two young siblings, who live in Texas, were visiting family in Gaza when the fighting broke out. Now they are caught in the middle of the violence. She tries to communicate when she can, but they have only about two hours of electricity a day in the part of Gaza where her mother is staying.
Her mother tells her children the explosions they are hearing outside are fireworks celebrating the Fourth of July.
In both of these cases, children are the victims of the hatred and violence that surrounds them. What’s worse is that the cycle of violence will likely continue. Children who witness the death of a loved one are more likely to seek retribution one day against those they blame for the killing.
I don’t know the answer. The complex situations will require complex solutions. Nations or leadership groups must first be willing to seek peace and denounce violence. They must be willing to spread the seeds of hope, not hate.
Otherwise, another generation raised on violence will produce the same rotten fruit. It’s a sickening thought.
Brian Knox is the special projects editor at the Messenger.