Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dancing for Joy

Three years ago a little boy and his friend got on a train near Sylhet. Several hours later they got off in Dhaka. This boy never made it back home, because he could not remember where home was. With nowhere to go, he became a child of the streets and a drug addict. Today, he’s roughly eight years and lives at APON, an Addiction Rehabilitation Residence founded by Brother Ronald in 1994. This boy was just one of the many incredible kids I met while volunteering today.

For the third year in a row, the British Women’s Association organized the Dhaka Children’s Party. 280 street children were invited from five different schools and organizations, and at 9:30 AM today busloads of them poured into the parking lot at the Nandan Water Park.

Rebecca and I were assigned to lead the APON group. The boys stood in line in front of the gates. Most of them wore torn and tattered, ill-fitting clothes. None of them wore shoes. We lead the way with the help of the smallest boy, no more than seven years old, who proudly waved the group’s red flag.

At the picnic area, the kids received brand new t-shirts and bags, which we helped them label. We also fed them breakfast – noodles, a banana, and a hard-boiled egg. They were so grateful for everything they received. Though they spoke hardly any English, they would look us directly in the eye, smile broadly and say, “thank you” with a quick nod of the head.

After breakfast we took them to the water.  The boys changed into the boardshorts and swim t-shirts we’d given them and charged into the pools. First up were the waterslides. It took some time, but we managed to create and enforce a more-or-less orderly line. The slides, however, took a backseat to the wave pool as soon as it was started up. But the most popular area by far was the water disco where water rained down from its ceiling and jets sprayed mist into the center while music blasted from the speakers. The kids were literally dancing for joy. If only there was a way to bottle up all that happiness.

Splashing and diving and scrambling up ladders, they skidded around the park until they were shivering. I had the chills not because I was cold, but because I kept thinking about how all these boys, who in this moment were playing the way all children should, were recovering drug addicts.

After lunch at the picnic area, it was tattoo time. As it turns out, kids all over the globe get incredibly excited about the prospect of having a dragon, heart, dolphin, or ferry on their body or face for a few days. As I applied the tattoos, I was sad to see that most of their bodies were scarred and many of them showed signs of cutting. The sight served as another reminder of what these children have been through in their short lives. Yet, their bright, white smiles helped reassure me of the resiliency of the human, and particularly a child’s, spirit.

“Is this really all for us? Can we really keep it?” The APON boys asked Brother Ronald repeatedly as they left their watery paradise with new clothes and a bag of goodies. As we stood outside the gates, they taught me their secret handshake, thanked us profusely, then waved enthusiastically as we left.  

Today was heart wrenching and heartwarming at the same time. When all was said and done, everyone left with a big smile on their faces. And I am left feeling happy for them and wishing these boys nothing but the best for their future. I hope they can leave their rocky pasts behind and that someday that little boy can find his way home.

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