Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Food, Shoes & Games: 500 Baht. An Afternoon with the Street Kids: Priceless.

A couple weeks ago, I was drinking coffee and studying for my Thai lesson outside a popular restaurant in Mae Sot. I watched as a frail, dirty boy walked up to the man at the table next to me, begging for money. The man ignored him, as most people do when they want beggars to go away, so he came to my table next. I'm familiar with many of the street kids from everything Compasio does, but I didn't recognize this one. He held out his hands and succeeded in giving me a very desperate plea for money. We don't give money, but we will give food... and we will always give our attention. I am unfortunately not able to communicate with most street kids, because I'm learning Thai and they speak Burmese. This little boy said something to me in Thai, so I asked him if he spoke. He did, so I found out that he was six years old, his name was Ali, and he walked the few miles into Mae Sot from Burma every day. I asked if he was hungry, so we walked down the street to get some food. I grabbed his hand before we ventured into the busy street, and that was the first time I got to see his smile. It was pure joy.

This afternoon, I stopped by Tesco Lotus to pick up some groceries before heading home. When Ali ran up to me to say hello, I realized that even if I had plans for the evening, they would take a distant second to what was now in front of me. We want the kids to know that we're not just here to buy them stuff, but that we also offer our love and friendship, and I certainly don't agree with spoiling the kids. However... sometimes kids should be spoiled. There are times I tell them no, times we'll just sit on the sidewalk, but today I wanted to let this six year old boy be a kid. I asked him if he wanted food, but more than that he pointed to a small train ride on the side of the building. He climbed into his little car and started playing with the steering wheel, and proceeded to wave at me every 50 times he went around the small loop. It melted my heart to see his unrestrained glee, and I felt so proud of him. I asked him what he wanted to do next, so we went and got some fruit. After that, he started looking at toy cars and trains, but I saw some shoes at the next stand. I looked at his tiny bare feet and thought of the long walk home he had that night, so I thought that might be a better purchase. He picked out a pair (quite cool, if I might say so!), and then we headed in to Tesco Lotus to the 3rd floor - the arcade. While I was watching him crash into the wall in a racing game, another boy plowed into us.

Koko is about 12 years old, and he's one of the first street kids I met. He has hung around our office the last couple Tuesdays around the time of our staff meeting, including today, and we've taken him next door for lunch with us both weeks. The two boys ran off to play together, and then we walked back outside. Koko noticed that Ali was wearing shoes, so that was of course our next stop. After that, Ali and I sat on the sidewalk while Koko ordered some food, and I realized that Ali hadn't stopped beaming and practically jumping up and down the whole time. After dinner, they got some ice cream and accompanied me into the store for the errand I had come to do an hour and a half ago. Ali wanted to hold my hand all the way back to my motorbike, and I tried say that I hoped to see him again soon.

It's these experiences I love. They are the ones that keep me here. I enjoy living here and have made some great friends, but nothing compares to seeing this kind of light in someone's eyes. To see hope and joy in the face of a child on the street or a kid at the garbage dump has an incredible kind of power.

I drove home feeling like I had just accomplished more than any amount of office work I could've done, like there's nowhere else I would rather have been, and like I loved these kids as if they were my own. I thought of a teenage boy that was just killed last week and of four street kids that recently went missing, and was struck with fear for the safety of these boys. I prayed for their protection, for their futures, and for their spirits to remain intact through whatever darkness may lie ahead of them.

No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders,
but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.
Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more;
the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. -Isaiah 60:18-20