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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 12.5657, 104.991
Yesterday the children all received new clothes, donated by volunteers and their families, organizations, and good-hearted people. The clothing is organized into plastic bins, based on sex and size. The children's sizes are roughly guessed at since these active Cambodians run wiry, strong, and small. Ten year old boys fit size 4 underwear; one 17 year old girl is so tiny she wore a size 18 month dress as a top. The exchanging of clothing is very festive; the children throwing old, outgrown, dirty pants and shirts in the discard pile and looking through bins and bins of exciting new clothing reminded me of shoppers at Filene's Basement, a discount store in Boston where clothing is jumbled together in large piles, and people root through, looking for hidden treasures, even wedding gowns. Someone who obviously understands children donated miniature tutus, pink and blue. One very little girl put two on, and coveted them so much she tried to hide them under a new dress to make her thieving escape. But she was caught and had to return both tutus to the dress-up basket. (She kept the new dress.)
Sharing can be a hard lesson to learn when you are small and want something dearly and exclusively. My mother used to tell a story about a very little girl, two years old, who loved her little wooden rocking chair so much that when her siblings or other children came over she just sat and rocked in her chair until they left. You can guess who this little girl was, but I think her behavior showed appropriate strategic cognitive skills for a two year old. She is much better at sharing her rocking chair now.
But I see the kids share things here everyday, sometimes even the little ones. They'll spoon some of their food into a friend's bowl, and drink from the same cup or water bottle, or give a friend a ride on their bike. But they also fight, and take things from another if that someone isn't looking. They are kids, growing up in a community rather than in nuclear families. They aren't perfect; no child--or human being--is. With almost 50 brothers and sisters they always have someone to play or fight with. Picture a childhood growing up like that!
They are never alone, unless they choose to be. I watch the ones who are by themselves more often than not, wondering if that's what they want, or why they are not playing/sitting/fighting with the other children. Older children who come sometimes take a while to find where they fit in, but it is not so difficult for the new little ones to find a place in the hearts of others. The babies and toddlers are carried and fed and cared for by everyone; if they cry some older child or adult quickly scoops them up. But for a new 7th grader who just came it is a different story. He has been here a week now, but whenever I see him he is not smiling; he is always alone. Perhaps when I don't see him, when he is at school or in the boys' dorm, maybe he is happy and included then, or maybe he is just a very quiet and self-contained soul. It's hard being 13 or 14 anyway; imagine being that age and having your life altered so completely. But over time I'm sure he'll find his way. It's much easier for the extroverts or for the kids who come with their siblings; they have a built-in support system, either in their magnetic, outgoing personalities or in their brother(s) and sister(s). Most make the adjustment and then living here becomes the norm, their life. And, basically and ultimately, it's a good one.
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