Dreaming of Fried Chicken

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ChildIt can be so hard to find them in the midst of the crowd. They may come into your life as a small hand slipping into yours, or as a set of sad and underfed eyes that search yours for a sign of hope. You may be walking alongside of them in a small sleepy town in Southeast Asia, in a village in the outback of Dominican Republic, or standing beside them in a grocery store in a tiny town in Mexico. You may think that they are merely poor, that they are clearly lacking hygienic resources, or you may not think anything at all. But the disparity between you and them would leave your head spinning. The difference between what security means to you and what security could mean to them are worlds apart, and this great imbalance is all because of a small piece of paper. Without it, they will never climb out of poverty’s grind, they will never get ahead, and they will always be left vulnerable; because that small piece of paper is much more of a privilege than a right.I remember sitting there at that picnic table so clearly in my mind: the smell of burning incense from a Buddhist temple nearby, hearing the hum of traffic just outside the gate of our yard, neighbourhood dogs barking at an annoyance down the street, and most of all, the stunned silence in our group around that table. We were left speechless, as tracks of tears streaked our faces. Realization was beginning to dawn on us and we began to process what life was like from their perspective.Though they may not even be aware of it yet, they are in for a long battle ahead of them, all because of a small piece of paper.Street in BurmaWhen Kru Nam told the children that Hero Holiday was coming for the first time, neither of us knew what their response would be. Before we began working with them through Hero Holiday, they had received few visitors. Hardly anyone knew of them, and even less were interested in taking the time to come see a little ragtag group of former child slaves and prostitutes in Northern Thailand. There were 60+ children crammed into a three story storefront building in a sleepy town along the Mekong RIver. They were dirt poor, wearing threadbare clothing, living from day to day, and they were all without official identity. They were from all over Thailand, Burma and Laos, and yet they were trafficked from their homes when they were too young to know where home was, and because they were stateless, they had no way to get back. They little group owned nothing, except a common love for each other and a persistent hope that life together was much better than being back where they had been found.Ice CreamWe were coming to get to know them in preparation to work with them and help in anyway. We told them we could do whatever they wanted. Did they want to go on an elephant trek? A bamboo raft ride? A day at an exciting park? No, they didn’t dream that big yet because they were craving something much more humble: the dream of swimming in a real pool, eating fried chicken, and having ice cream. I know it seems so simple, but to a stateless child without any clothes to call their own, the thought of owning your own bathing suit and using it in a real pool seems like a pipe dream. When your diet consists of daily doses of rice, with a little bit of cucumber and fried egg, the dream of fried chicken fills you with anticipation. And when you are in +35 C weather, and someone opens up the ice cream freezer on the back of a random ice cream seller’s motorbike and tells you to take as much as you like, you are living the dream!So here we were, in a pool in the middle of nowhere, all wearing spiffy little matching swimming caps (pool regulations!), trying to make sure none of the children were drowning, and laughing hysterically at their antics. Little boys pulling wrestling moves on the guys on our team, pretending to be Muay Thai fighting masters, and screaming and jumping into the pool every few minutes.  Young girls squealing and chasing each other in the shallow end and laughing at how silly the Canadians looked with the swimming caps jammed down on their heads. Spontaneous hugs around your legs from a little one you have to look down to find, arms wrapped around your neck when you bend down to hand them the ice cream, and grateful smiles and laughter at opening their lunch bag and finding the fried chicken. Despite what they had been through, these kids were so real and so alive! It seemed that every fiber of who they were was determined to make the most of this experience. For a brief moment of respite, they could forget the hurt, the loneliness and the loss and they could just be normal, carefree kids. For those of us who were a part of it, it was a glimpse of heaven.Later that evening, sitting at that picnic table on the property where we were staying with our team, we were left without words. My hands still remembered warm little hands holding mine in trust, fresh memories of laughter at the wrestling antics of the little boys with the guys in our group, and most of all, feeling so alive. Like your life counted. Like you were part of something that brought joy – even if just for an afternoon. But all of this overshadowed with one thought that was so disturbing: how can the world say they don’t exist? Those little hands are real; the squeals of laughter and the pure joy on their face was real; our lives were touched by theirs…because they exist. Though the world has denied them an existence and labeled them as stateless, they are more real now than ever. They are young lives full of wonder, dreams, hopes and fears. But they are also young lives full of courage and resilience, and they deserve to have a voice. They deserve to have their place known in this world.Slums on RiverAccording to the latest Unicef estimates, 36% of the births in the developing world are going unregistered each year. This means that almost half the children in the world are denied their right to a legal identity at birth, mostly due to extreme poverty, oppression and race. Birth registration is a ticket of citizenship, and it provides rights and privileges to citizens in the realms of food, health, and education. Without it, they are also denied the right to vote, the right to marry, the right to own property, obtain a passport, and own a business. Without birth certificates, children are extremely vulnerable to exploitation to slave traders, drug traffickers, unscrupulous employers, criminal gangs, and prostitution. To be stateless is to be without peace, stability and resources, and in the cycle of poverty, it is almost impossible to escape from on your own.Buddies Along the Border are working to get these children registered and to enable them to have the best education possible. Each year, Hero Holiday teams join with them to accomplish projects and to celebrate their lives. You can be a part of helping young lives such as these have a future with hope. Join us!To live anywhere in the world today and be against equality because of race or color is like living in Alaska and being against snow.~ William Faulkner

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: June 7th, 2009