When I arrived at the elementary school on Tuesday, one of my students came running up to me – even before I could get near the school’s gate. He explained, in hurried sentences and without looking at me, that one of the elementary school students was killed. A six-year-old child was hit by a car, on Monday afternoon, and died on Tuesday. I asked him softly, “Did you know him?” and he responded with a nod, while looking at the ground.
I never knew this child’s face, but I don’t need to. I know Marina, who draws pictures for me and calls me her sister. I know Edgar who is always chuckling in the back of the classroom. I know Katya who somehow finds a way to doodle on the board even after I tell her to sit down and start working.
It’s not fair. It’s not right. I can’t seem to get this child out of my mind – his family, his teachers and his friends. Six years old…six.
His death brings up so many issues – nonexistent traffic laws, unsupervised children and the plain lack of road safety in this country. Children are tough here – they can hike cliffs in flip-flops, they can walk on broken glass, they can sit in the sun all day without drinking a sip of water, they can fall out of trees and get up running (I’ve seen it happen). They know how to wash clothes by hand, how to cook, and how to clean. They take care of themselves. Many of their parents must work all day, thus siblings take care of one other.
Yet, even with all this, they are still children. They need to hear the word no, they need someone to hold their hand – they want supervision, guidance and advice. Cars, vans, buses and trucks fly down the strip of road that parallels the elementary school gate. Here, paved roads symbolize speed — go as fast as possible because it’s not gravel and you won’t skid. No speed limits, no seat belts, no traffic lights or caution signs.
Something has to change. Children walk back and forth to school, at least twice a day, six days a week. For now, it begins in the classroom with a, “look both ways before you cross and then look again, never cross the road by yourself and never cross the road at night. And don’t ever, ever let me catch you playing near the road.” I guess you gotta start somewhere…