Suzu-Chu’s Song

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boy-reading-at-garbage-dump.jpgThe bridge to get there was made of long strips of thin bamboo, loosely wired together. It was precariously laid across a rushing, muddy stream full of garbage and whatever else you can imagine, and I felt torn between taking in my surroundings and trying to focus on not falling through the bamboo to the river below.We were there because our Hero Holiday Thailand team was taking a day with a drop-in centre to do some visitation to the families across the Burmese border. We had arrived there on a tuk-tuk, had walked through thick, red muddy fields, and were covered in mud up to our ankles as we inched our way across the tiny bridge. On the other side were small bamboo houses, covered with thatched, patchy roofs and clinging to the small hill along the river’s edge – each of them worse off than the last. The smell of charcoal smoke and grime filled the air. It was the familiar smell of desperate poverty: simultaneously drawing and repulsing you by what it represented.young-boy.jpgStopping at the first house, we dropped off rice for widowed mother of 8 children. Three of her kids were ensnared in the sex industry in the border town we had just come through, one was safe in the children’s home, and the rest were too young or too stoned on weird opiates to be of any use. As she explained how her husband had died in an accident five months earlier, her youngest child sat on her hip, barely a year old. She was dying of cancer and not sure what was going to happen to her family, but the team we were with were working with her to try to find solutions for their situation, and she was confident they would be ok. And now she wanted to show us a family that she felt needed more help in a different way. As we clung to the riverbanks to get to the other house, I was trying to wrap my mind around what she could think was worse than her situation.Stopping at the entrance to another similar bamboo hut, we entered the back room and were beckoned to sit on the small, straw mat in the centre. A young mother sat there, protectively laying her hand on a small child who was writhing on the floor, her back and body grotesquely bending backwards and forwards as her eyes rolled back and forth. She was incredibly frail, and as she writhed around, she softly hummed to herself, seemingly oblivious to the world around her. Her name was Suzuchu.Her mother held out pictures to me of a chubby, smiling baby: one of her sitting in a park, one of her perched on a table, laughing. Following those photos, she handed me x-ray images of a brain that was clearly not healthy. Through the translator, she explained that her child had water on her brain and spine and that she was dying. She was six years old, but she was clearly not going to grow past where she was when she contracted the disease – whether from a water parasite or some othe viral infection. But she was the centre of her mother’s world, and the look of tenderness on that mother’s face was unsurpassed in beauty. This child was beautiful and this woman’s world was in her arms at that moment. I looked past her to the other mother and saw her holding her own baby close, realizing that to that woman – and many women around the world – a far worse fate than dying herself was to helplessly watch her own children suffer.”Is there anything we can bring you to help your child?” I asked, choking on my own words.After a brief pause, she smiled shyly and said, “Yes, maybe one thing.”Turning to the tin on the rickety shelf behind her, she pulled out a small foil packet. “This is special milk for my daughter. Could I have a few more?” As I stared at it, the packet looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place where I had seen it before. She handed it to our translator.Smiling, he said to us quietly, “This is Coffee Mate. I think we can find this and something better for her child.” She smiled in thanks, not understanding the implications.Earlier that morning, in my hotel dining room, as I quickly grabbed a cup of coffee, I had used the same package of Coffee Mate as I had lamented to myself that there was no fresh milk. Now I sat on this mat with a mother who believed that this same package could help sustain her daughter. We sat inches apart, but we lived in worlds that were miles apart.brittany.jpgI don’t know who originally gave this mother Coffee Mate for her child, but we went out and got her more – as well as nutritional supplements and formula. Will Coffee Mate change her world? Not really. But consistent love, compassion and support can help ease the pain and point to a future, and that is what the staff from the outreach centre do every day in that community. It was the least we could do for a mother who taught us about love on that bamboo mat, as her dying daugher sang to her.We are in Thailand right now with our Hero Holiday team. As we are out on our adventures and working in the hot sun, we are each learning about how incredible compassion can be and realizing that we all play a part to end the cycle of poverty. You can join us on our next trip here! Check out for more details.”Do all things with love.” ~ Og Mandino

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 9th, 2010