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Walking the streets of the slum, I notice a few things. One is the sheer number of “children at risk” that fill the streets. The other is how happy they are. They often live oblivious to the fact that they are “at risk,” and more so to what it is that they are at risk of. Their ignorance to the risk that they live in certainly doesn’t seem to minimize the affects of the conditions that they’re in, but it does remove the comprehension of what a normal life could be.

Part of me wants to think that their smiles indicate that they are safe from the risks that surround them. But my conversations with them and those who grew up in that reality reveal something boldly different. In one conversation with a former child soldier, the young man recounted the joy that he experienced after killing his first person. His joy came out of the fulfillment of his worldview. He was not forced to do something that he knew was wrong—he accomplished what his worldview had defined as right.

This young man had grown up without a source of compassion to influence his worldview. The risk that he grew up in was a risk of never knowing that the world (the one created through his young life experiences) could be any different than what he had seen. What would have happened if he had seen what was possible? What would it have taken—something as simple as witnessing compassion? What if he had met someone like you…how would his world have changed? How would yours?

I don’t know if it changes anything, but today the kids on the street got hugs, a listening ear and a sincere smile…today the kids knew that they were enjoyed. I think that’s a good place to start.

Jason McKnight

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