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 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.
Without 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?
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