Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Before They are Judged

Squealing children speak a universal language. Yesterday we spent time at VCDF (Volunteers for Children's Development Foundation), which is a drop-in center for streets kids here in Chiang Mai. (We visited their Chiang Rai branch, an orphanage, the other day.) There are countless kids living on the streets in this tourist town known for temples, a night bazzaar and (often gay) prostitution. These are the kids you see selling flowers, begging for money, or selling their bodies.

We played for a few hours in a big room with a garage-sized door open to the street. Picture a day care center. Nate, blessed with endless energy that draws kids like flies, ran like a maniac around the room. They were on his back, four on top of each other, as he crawled around the tile, scattered Nerds digging into his kneecaps. Adrian was brave enough to set a velcro dartboard above his head and take the hits. Daniel and Jenny handed out SweetTarts and Nerds. A few girls in the corner were carefully applying lizard and butterfly tattoos onto their arms. One boy took a whole sheet and emerged with a nicely ordered breastplate of Spidermans and Iron mans from nipple to navel. The walls were covered in abstract finger paintings and a growth chart disguised as a giraffe.

But there were a few noticeable differences. Two teenage boys slept in the middle of the floor, catching their sleep after a night out with johns. Among the finger paintings were posters on how to put on a condom, pictures of birth control pills, and lots of information on HIV/AIDS prevention. Mari taught a teenage girl English words, a skill she is eager to learn in her trade. It seemed obscene watching the kids run around in all of this, but it was all information they needed to know.

(The rest of the team was out shopping for medical supplies for the new medical cabinet SOLD is funding for VCDF. The org has tried to bring in doctors for regular check-ups, the kids' only medical attention. But these children are mostly Burmese, and the doctors aren't interested.)

We all kept waiting for parents to come pick these kids up, barely able to register that they'd walked there on their own and would leave at the end of the day to do whatever it is they do at night. At the center, they learn English, take prevention and awareness classes, learn trades,etc. They create beautiful arts and crafts that are sold in a downtown storefront, Dor Dek.

When Nate came roaring through the room one more time, the kids scattered in delighted panic, shoving each other out of the way to avoid a hug that promised merciless tickling. One girl, six years old, booked it for my lap and buried her head tightly into my neck. I screamed along with Nate and the kids.

"Oh no!" I squealed. "He's coming! He's coming! Hiiiiiide!" She held on tighter, her small little frame folded completely inside my arms. Nate's airplane passed, now distracted by attacking velcro darts from a few boys. "It's okay, it's okay," I laughed. "You're safe now!" I mocked gasped and sighed. "You're safe." Her brown eyes, yellowed with the shade of her dress, looked up at me and giggled. She leaned back in my lap so her head was hanging off, showing the world her upside down grin.

"You're safe," I said one more time, this time knowing I was lying. When VCDF closed a few hours later, she walked out onto the streets. I can only assume she was alone.


Mrs. Wenzel said...

OK, so I'm thinking you need to use your writing skills to write a YA book about sex trafficking that is appropriate for my media center to raise awareness about these kids among young people. You can do it. God has given you the gift of words and is showing you what you can write about...

sarah said...

Heather, I agree with your mom 100%! I was just thinking what an amazing writer you are, and what a great idea Mrs. Wenzel. It has been wonderful being able to read so clearly what you are experiencing and feeling on this first, of many important trips. Travel safe <3

the lovely years said...

This last bit breaks my heart. How can you not want to smuggle every kid you meet on the plane to come back home? Bring me a few. : (