|Photographer: Noelle Shumer (ZOE Short Term Team)|
Author: David Cross
I still can’t get the images of last week out of my mind. I was trailing through one of the many inner city slums here in Chiangmai with a local social worker. As I was following along in the slushy mud, I looked down to see a crippled boy dragging his body through a dirty puddle that I had so easily tiptoed over just seconds earlier.
The evidence of recent flooding brought the frustrations of the heavy rain at my own home briefly to mind. It had been inconvenient to me, but as I viewed this situation from the perspective of another person, who also calls this city their home, my concerns flailed in to insignificance.
It had rained a lot in this slum. It had rained so much that the nearby river had risen and blocked the narrow entry/exit for two days causing many people to feel isolated and uncertain.
Poverty is complicated. And it’s confronting.
People boiling their water in used oil tins, heating it on tiny coals.
My thoughts raced.
In one of the slums I visited, the area designated for all the children to come and do their homework, was smaller than a 1 metre x 2 metre rectangle. It was pretty much just a bamboo platform. Children would come and sit there each night to complete their schoolwork and afterwards go off to work at a nearby cultural show as child dancers. I remember going to that show over a year ago and I recall wondering what circumstances had occurred to allow these young children to perform in an evening show, seven nights per week.
The social worker, that I was with, has a rotating schedule so that he can get around and help as many children as he can with their homework. Volunteers from local universities also come and sit with the children to help them learn and assist them with their homework.
It was as we arrived for one of these ‘homework shifts’ that I’d found myself staring down at puddles, awkward and confronted by the young crippled boy before me.
As the children gathered with their homework, my hairy arms and white skin quickly acted as a distraction. And soon enough, I was “the entertainment” for the kids who did not have any homework that night. The children were happy just to pat my arms like I was a Persian rug (something I have now got very used to) but not before too long, I noticed an animal poster hanging up. So, with that, I became a stand-in teacher and did what I could do to help them with their English pronunciation as well as run some simple games and show them all how to play with the video device I had in my pocket.
The boy, who had dragged himself through the puddle earlier, now pulled his body up the steps and came and sat in the room to see what all the laughter was about. Playing with the kids was fun. Seeing them laugh, temporarily lifted me out of the environment we were in and in to another place. But each time I met eyes with the crippled boy with the wet mud on his legs, the harsh reality was felt.
My heart continues to break for these children.
And I just wish I could somehow fix the problem!