Toula's Story

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June 6th 2006
Published: June 6th 2006
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Toula Toula Toula

I don't think words would justify...
The boy you see in the picture is Toula, a young Khmer child who is lucky enough to attend the Happy School.

On our previous visit to Phnom Penh, Eva, Leens and I had fallen in love with this little creature, so full of energy and cheek. He had been the only one of the kids who had dared come closer to us 'barangs'', and we had embraced him, literally.

Of course, we thought, ''Oh, what a happy little boy in his dirty little clothes'', the typical Western, uneducated response. Now, on my return to the school, I have begun to understand a tiny bit better what some of these kids actually go through, and that their dirty little clothes are not dirty, but filthy, from wearing them in and out, day after day. I have come to understand that most of these kids don't own more than one or two pairs of clothes.

Toula... Toula's parents seperated several years ago, something that seems to becoming more common in Cambodia, and re-married other partners. Please don't begin to think that this is due to free choice, or any of those wonderful things we are blessed with. No, it
Apples awaiting their fateApples awaiting their fateApples awaiting their fate

When the kids bit into these with their hands behind their backs, we laughed so hard that we nearly cried.
was probably from beatings, from an inability to feed themselves and their kids, from a loss of a meager wage, which was buying the alcohol to keep the father somewhat sane.

With their change in circumstances, Toula's parents both decided they no longer ''wanted'' the little kid. The mother moved into a province close to Phnom Penh, whilst the father found himself a job in the city. The mother's new family could not support Toula, and so decided they wouldn't. Luckily for him, he had begun attending the Happy School prior to all this confusion, and one of the teachers, Narin, was kind enough to take care of Toula after his parents shunned him. So nice of Narin, I thought.

These days, the future for Toula is looking a less rosey. Narin left his job at the school due to a fallout with the other staff and a dissatisfaction for what he was doing - hardly fair that I judge him on this, though, as I really don't know his story. Regardless, Narin no longer wanted to take care of Toula, and couldn't take him to school anymore, so Toula was left floating, once again.

After many
Without a worry in the worldWithout a worry in the worldWithout a worry in the world

In their Sunday best, the kids are soaking up every minute at the party
attempts by Toula's mother to convince Sharni, one of the ACE volunteers, to take Toula back to Australia with her (AUD20,000 plus a whole heap of bribes and paperwork), Toula is now living with his mother again, though the school pays for his transport everyday, as his parents cannot afford it, and do not really care that much for schooling. At lunchtime, when the other kids go home, Toula wonders off to a streetstall to buy himself something to eat.

This all sounds sad, but not that bad, right? Well, just take a look at his picture. See how old this child is. At home, we would still be holding his hand to cross the road, putting him in daycare whilst we are out at work, worrying sick about something happening to him. Not here. In this place, Toula is forced to grow up very quickly, to fend for himself, because if he doesn't, he will not survive. And further, his disappearance would likely worry only those at the school.

Nika explains to me that he is a naughty child, and it is partly his own doing that his family don't want him, because he doesn't help out around the house, and he is constantly seeking attention. If he cooked for his family whilst they were out making money, if he cleaned and generally made himself useful, then his parents would think, ''Aha, this child is ok.''

I filled up waterbombs with Toula for the party we had at the school on International Children's Day, to celebrate their being. I just wanted to cry, because all I could see was this little kid, drenched in water as I was from the hose constantly exploding, smiling and laughing, just wanting some love. In class, he is load and boisterous, and the teachers scold him, but he is always to first one with his hand up, at the board, yelling out the answers at the top of his squeeky voice. The older kids, too, pick on him and tease him, tell him to be quiet.

I try to understand that they, too, just have it tough and are trying to get by. But doesn't anyone see that he is just crying out for love, for someone to hold him, and smile with him, to give him a glimmer of hope? What a crazy world, I think, when there are beautiful little children like Toula getting around, with no one to love them. We invest thousands of dollars in our own children, have artifical conceptions if necessary, all just to have one of our own. Yet here there are so many faces screaming out...

It really makes you wonder about our system. How can it be that it takes years to adopt children from other parts of the world? You have to go through tests, checks, flecks, schmets, blah, blah, blah, to make sure you have the right interests of the child at heart.

But can their lives really get much worse? Can their future possibly be transformed to look any less bright?


6th June 2006

hand full
Wow! someone has been busy with those kids, thank you for the pictures, I am dying to see where you are, where you work. I keep telling you how lucky you are by just being there and you have been discovering so much about you and the world. Keep smiling and be strong, you will get depressed when you confront the real world!
6th June 2006

I totally understand your affinity with Toula, I see him through the same eyes and it breaks my heart that he is still in the same situation. Incredulous that his Mother could even consider giving him away to a complete stranger. Angry even though i know i have no right to cast judgement from the particular vantage point of my citzenship. I seriously considered bringing him to Australia, going through the process etc etc ... wondering how he would ever fit into such a removed culture, was he too old to integrate, would he survive the Australian school system, would it be cruel to take him away from his home and all sorts of other things. I guess you consider all sorts of desperate things to solve desperate situations. What to do Maria? How much repsonsibilty can we assume over such situations? Should we be doing more? Pretty heavy stuff for your first month in the Penh.
7th June 2006

Hey Maz, Well your've suprised me. I've just finished reading through your blogs and am amazed at all that you have done. It sounds like you are having an unbeilievable experience that is going to stay with you forever. Take care over there and enjoy your adventure. Stay safe Wattsy
7th June 2006

Maria, ich schreibe in deutsch, damit keiner versteht, was ich sage. Ich habe geheult, als ich Toula's Geschichte gelesen habe. Nach vielem Nachdenken glaube ich, dass es das Beste ist, er bliebe bei seiner Mutter, und wenn man versuchen wuerde, sie finanziell zu unterstuetzen. Es ist so leicht, negativ ueber sie zu denken, und ich tue das auch, muss ich zugeben. Aber fuer den kleinen Toula, glaube ich, waere es das beste, denn er wuenscht sich bestimmt die Liebe und Vertrautheit seiner eigenen Mutter, wie jedes Kind auf dieser Welt. Moege sie sein, wie sie ist. Sein Verhalten ist, wie Du sagst, ein Cry for Love and Help, aber auch entstanden aus der Not, sich ueberall durchboxen zu muessen und aus der Erkenntnis, dass er schon in so jungen Jahren Ablehnung erfahren musste. Rejection by his own mother at his age? Er muss denken, dass das alles seine eigene Schuld ist, nicht viel anders von den meisten "Divorce Kids" in unserer Welt hier. Ich glaube, ein Leben hier waere nicht die beste Loesung fuer ihn und andere Beteiligte, sondern Integration in seine Welt dort drueben. Hoert sich alles theoretisch gut an, aber das in die Praxis umzusetzen, ist schwierig und ich kenne die Beteiligten nicht. Vielleicht solltest Du mal die familiaere Situation mehr untersuchen, wenn sie Dich lassen, e.g. die Mutter und Geschwister kennenlernen, den neuen Mann, den Vater....Ich habe schon seit Jahren gesagt, wie krank es mich macht, wenn ich hier die medizinischen Auswuechse sehe, die unsere gesellschaft Fortschritt nennt, und was manche Leute fuer Zeit und geld ausgeben, um Kinder ihr eigen zu nennen. Typisch fuer eine sehr verwoehnte und egoistische gesellschaft. Und zu Deiner "Weekly Column" kann ich nur sagen, gut gemacht, Mariechen, dass der Typ die Biege gemacht hat und Du Dich so gut gefuehlt hast dabei, auch, wenn ich nicht mit allem einverstanden bin, was Du sonst so schreibst. Wir sind nie ein leeres Blatt, wenn wir vor einer neuen Situation stehen, und es ist nicht im menschlichen Wesen verankert, dass wir Erfahrungen nicht beruecksichtigen, sondern versuchen, daraus zu lernen. War schon am Anfang der menschlichen Entwicklung so, und der Prozess wird weitergehen, so lange es den Menschen mit seiner grossen Gehirnkapazitaet gibt. Wir "kontrollieren: die Welt als einziges Lebewesen, eben gerade, weil wir reflektieren koennen ueber unsere Umwelt und uns selbst, was kein anderes Lebewesen kann. Daher kommt Verhaltensaenderung und Mutation, und wenn eine verhaltensart nicht "produktiv" war, kann sie veraendert werden beim naechsten Mal. Kann man auch Erfahrung nennen. Wo Du recht hast, ist, dass wir mehr fuer den Moment leben sollten, und dass wir vorherige Erfahrungen nicht so auf die Goldwaage legen sollten. Aber warum sind Erfahrungen immer mit diesem negativen Beigeschmack versehen? Gibt es nicht auch viel positive, die wir gerne weiterverarbeiten fuer unser Wohl? Naja, muss los, bin nicht gerade in bester Stimmung wegen der verlorenen Knete. Aber, then again, it's only money, and I mean it! Wegen Toula, Maria, sieh die Sache nicht zu emotional, dann fallen einem meistens NICHT die besten Ideen ein, man verliert das klare Denken! Sei stolz auf Dich, Picki und ich sind es jedenfalls sehr!! 100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000Kuesschen, Mum

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