When She Smiles
She has an infectious laugh, and when she smiles, it spreads across her face, lighting up her eyes and giving them a mischievous glow. She loves to knit and crochet. She makes scarves, purses and other small items and sells them to tourists at the Friday night market in the town. With the money she makes, she gives some to her two younger sisters at the children’s home and sends some to her parents back in Burma, just over the border. She is a mother at heart and loves to take care of the other kids there and make them feel at home. She is 15 and two weekends before I met her, her parents had sold her to a tourist for yet another weekend of sex and abuse.The children’s home had given the family the option to leave their children there – they are never taken from a family home unless they are in known danger. The family had consented to allowing the younger two sisters to stay there, but they said the older sister was a help to them as she worked in the home and they promised that she would go to school. Even more than that, they promised that she would be safe. But in the end, whether it was through desperation, lies, manipulation, or a lethal combination of all three factors, she was sold for a small, insignificant amount of money. Had it not been for the workers in the home that we partner with, she would have been labeled as another statistic in the endless abyss of trafficking and sexual exploitation; she would have been dragged deeper into the trap.But the miracle happened when I was there. The miracle of her smile. It wrapped itself around my heart, and made me feel blessed by just being able to witness it. It was a gift to the world because it was a sign that things were somehow going to get better. Although no one knew how, there was a confidence residing in it that gave us all something to hold on to. As my fingers type out these words, I feel that same confidence: somehow it will get better. Though life is shaky, plans can fail or change, injustice is somehow inevitable, yet there is still hope. Her smile was an olive branch that she held out to the world, and especially to the kids around her, wrestling with their own demons and hurt. Though it may have been small, it was a loud shout in the face of everything that had happened. She was choosing who she would become.I have never forgotten her. I sat beside her, as she giggled and tried to teach me how to crochet (I am still a crochet dud!) and I hugged her as she leaned into my shoulder, hungry to be reassured that she was valuable. Wiggling her finger and laughing at their antics, she would mother her two younger sisters who ran around with the other children. They were oblivious to what she had been subjected to in the years that they had been apart, and I think she liked it better that way. It made it easier to stay a child just a little bit longer.What do you do for a hurt so deep that words or comfort can’t touch – when the action has been done and the memory lives on? If you are her, you choose to smile. Bravely and boldly, you look into others’ eyes and you smile. It was that smile that broke my heart and yet made me feel courage and determination all at the same time. With the help of our financial partners, LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) was able to help build one of the safe homes there and many of us were able to play a part in making that home a safe and better place. Perhaps it was a home that she is now living in. This is what love, hope and faith can build: the ability to smile again.