Chico is a handsome young man from Burma, who has been spending some time in Mae Sot trying to earn money for his family. He is too old to beg (depending on the day, he says he is either 13 or 19), so he has had a tough time here. He visits our Drop-In Center on Wednesdays, and never wants to leave. You can see the ache for safety and affection on his face. He has really connected with my friend Katie, and she has a special heart for him.
Last week, he showed up at our office with his friend Ali. They wanted to return to Burma that day, and wanted us to give them money. We stood at our gate and delivered our standard, "I'm sorry, we can't give you money" response. Looking miserable and defeated, they started to turn away. We asked if they were thirsty, and invited them to sit at the table in front of our office. They gulped down some water, and Katie went to a restaurant next door to order some food for them. Enjoying our unexpected visitors, Katie began speaking with Chico in Burmese, and I talked to Ali in Thai. We engaged with them separately in different languages, periodically stopping to tell the other what we were hearing.
Ali explained that he lost his vision when he was eight years old. He comes from Burma, and has no mother or father. He cannot work because he's blind, and he is lucky to have a friend like Chico who will hold his hand around town. They are currently staying in one of the poorest neighborhoods, and they face challenges every day just to survive. They don't know when or how they're going to get food, if they'll be safe, and now, how they'll get back home to Burma. As I watched Ali speak with such desperation, words weighted with the suffering he feels every minute, I came quite close to bursting into tears.
What kind of future does Ali have? Will this incredible spark in Chico's eyes last much longer?
Where will these young men end up?
Just as it was all feeling too heavy for us to stand, Chico casually mentioned that he speaks English. When we asked him if he actually does, he just said, "yeah!"... like it was no big deal. We quickly calculated what we had already said to each other in English, and realized he understood us saying how cute he was. Oh well.
Ali told me all his troubles, with every bit of misery apparent, but then told me that he felt good sitting there with us. He asked if he could come back every day, and I had to say no. I explained it was our office and that they couldn't come every day, but that we really liked spending time with them and would meet them over the weekend. He said, "Really? You'll come see me?", and I replied, "Really, we will!" (it sounds so much cooler in Thai)
So we did. We took two of our male Interns to visit the community where they were staying, and found Chico in a small house with almost 30 other people. I had never been to this street before, and was overwhelmed by the poverty. I have seen poverty here, and let me tell you... I was overwhelmed. The dead-end road was lined with a long apartment-like structure on each side, and each little home was spilling over with people, laundry and garbage. We sat on the concrete floor in the living room with old men and women sitting against the walls, babies and little kids crawling all over (of course with no pants), young women lying down and watching TV, the men talking and watching it all, and another 15 people standing outside and crowding the windows to peer in. Ali was apparently staying at the mosque, but we got to see Chico and let him know that he was worth visiting. He smiled the whole time. So did we.
I pray for the futures of these kids, and for their hearts to be protected from all the trouble around them. Some of the kids have seemingly resigned to life on the streets, but I can see that Chico wants more. He has dreams, and I cling to hope that he can someday be all he wants to be.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. -Jer 29.11