I came across a story this week that I’m surprised didn’t receive more press coverage.
According to the report, some of our military on patrol in Iraq came across an orphanage that was full of disabled children. Conditions were deplorable. The youngsters were lying on the floor naked, writhing in their own waste and tied to their beds.
See the photo story: (caution this is heart breaking) Click Here
The circumstances were perplexing. This particular orphanage was well supplied; they had food even though they were not feeding the children, supplies of clothes though the children had none on.
Most think the caretakers were selling the food and clothes in the market for money. When our soldiers first interacted with the so-called caretakers, these Iraqi adults didn’t think anything was wrong. They posed for pictures until they figured out they were in deep trouble. They soon disappeared.
I want to preface this; I am not sure how you feel about the war but this is not a story about war.
This is a story of humanity and its value.
The Iraqi people have lived under a cruel dictatorship for many years. This is not a matter of debate. And in that system, they’ve lived with a very real fear of being tortured or even killed for minor or no reason at all.
This type of oppression is not limited to Iraq. In countries around the world, innocent people are living in fear of being abused and mistreated for varied and sorted reasons. The motivations may be different depending upon the location, but they all have one thing in common: They live in a culture that sees life as expendable.
Value in these countries is based upon what you can offer the government, the local officials or even warlords who can take your life with no fear of consequences, In other words, there are two classes of people – people worth keeping and those worth nothing at all.
The sad fact is where the disabled fall in this kind of system.
If the country as a whole doesn’t value its citizens, those who need others for their very sustenance are in even worse shape.
When the solders saw the situation, they immediately began cleaning, feeding, clothing and tending to the children. This was normal, yet it would strike many in Iraq as strange.
While our country may not be perfect, we do understand one thing. Our value is not based on our contribution to the government but rather what is innate within us.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” reads the Declaration of Independence, “ that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
From our inception, we have believed this. People have abused and misunderstood that document, but through the struggle and strife of civil war and civil rights, we have made tremendous progress over the past two centuries.
But in counties like Iraq, there is not as innate an understanding of the value of life, especially for those unable to care for themselves. The most vulnerable are always at risk to be mistreated, exploited and abused.
This is what is most disturbing about this story. How are we to change a culture? How are we to teach those who have been devalued, that they have value? How do we teach those who have never had value placed on them that it is important to value the disabled and the vulnerable?
I think the answer is in how we teach our own children of their value. It is how we treat and talk about the disabled and the vulnerable. Our children learn by watching us. They learn what we value and will inevitably gravitate to the same virtues of life.
It is difficult for our soldiers to be in Iraq and to endure the hardships and danger while simultaneously imparting a love of life and the belief that every person is worthy of protection.
To me, this experience and the reaction of our soldiers in the orphanage says more to the culture of Iraq than does a tank or a toppled statue of a fallen dictator. And as our soldiers come upon more atrocities, their actions will continue to speak to the heart of the matter and the root of an enduring respect for every human life.