For the past few days I’ve been riveted by the story of four children who miraculously survived on their own for 40 days in the Colombian jungle after the small plane they were on crashed, killing their mother and the two other adults on board.
When rescuers first arrived at the site of the crash, the children were nowhere to be found. Hundreds of soldiers and an alliance of Indigenous communities scoured the area; reports of the children being found lifted the collective spirits of the whole country, just as the news that the reports were false devastated them.
Finally, after almost six weeks, rescuers located the siblings, barefoot and malnourished, but all shockingly alive. Members of the Huitoto Indigenous community, the children — ages 13, 9, 4 and the youngest who had his first birthday in the forest – all grew up in the jungle and learned from an early age how to navigate it.
It quickly became apparent that their survival is largely thanks to the eldest, Lesly, the 13-year-old who played the role of mother to her little brothers and sisters, helping create shelter out of branches and hair ties and discerning the nutritious fruit from the poisonous ones.
My own eldest daughter is 13, and it’s hard not to think about how she would have fared, how she would have stepped up in this kind of situation — a situation so horrible that no child should have to endure. Clearly, my daughter’s life in Brooklyn has not prepared her to make shelter in the jungle or know what fruit to eat (though if the plane crashed in New York City she could certainly lead the children to good boba and the best Sephora).
But it does make me think more generally about what we are doing as modern day parents to make sure that our children are independent, resilient and can survive — not just a plane crash, but whatever gets thrown their way. When it comes to the caring part I am confident that in situations when put to the test, my daughter would care for the people around her, would put the smaller ones on her back and make sure they are fed.
When it comes to resilience, as I write this, I hear her calling for water from down the hallway and for somebody to turn off her light, so clearly we have some steps to go before she is ready for the jungle.
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