Monday, May 10, 2010

A New Season (Part 2)

A street fight provides the context for a return to the street. A dispute among the older children and an ugly brawl ensues. D - a boy we later take in - grabs a rock and smashes it against another boy's face. A member of our team withdraws, feeling nauseous.

It was Friday, and I pressed the team to return to the street one more time before the weekend. We had sufficient volunteers and a good variety of activities for the following few days. It was the right move: that night, three boys returned to the house. One of them was W, who I last saw crying on the pavement as we left the street the previous Tuesday evening. He was crying because of his 15 year old brother who he was always with on the street (but who we were unable to help since he is too old for the rescue house). An incomprehensible dilemma, but an entirely understandable response. I never thought I'd see him enter the gates of the rescue house, but here he was, and I was filled with joy.

Snot, drool, blood, sweat. Wounds old and new need to be dressed and redressed. I exercise a type of triage so that the boys are washed and ready for dinner without delay. How do you remove wood glue from skin? (W is literally covered in the stuff). Google it. T-shirts are removed to reveal hideous scars (knife wounds? cigarette ends?).

Interacting with the kids over the following few days, it becomes immediately apparent that they are extremely needy of attention. Not only the constant requests to be present during the most rudimentary and mundane activities (brushing teeth, making the bed), but also when diving into the pool, flying a kite or playing football. It is as if each of the boys in these few days is making up for a lifetime's deficit of love and attention. As if this is their chance, their one opportunity to be recognized (once again) as children – playing, joking, farting – and not as vermin; not as pests. This is their chance for affirmation (“well done, J!” as he manages to swim a width of the pool; “fantastic, W!” as he launches a kite high into the sky, against all odds). Ideally, the ratio of helper and child at this point should be 1:1. A child left alone for even ten minutes can begin to think of (and long for) the street again. However, we simply don't have the staff.

My focus during the Acampamento was to demonstrate as much love, attention and joy to the kids as possible. I take the view that kids won't be interested in words of instruction and guidance (why would a child want to come from the street – where there are literally no rules – to a place where it is no longer acceptable to spit or swear or use the cat as a doormat?) unless they first know that you love them and want the very best for them. It may be clichéd, but it's still true: people don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

And what can one draw from five long days with six street children, except perhaps bland generalizations?
  • Most are shrewd and manipulative: I am reminded of Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London – a book I enjoyed not for its graphic descriptions of poverty, but for when the paupers used Christian charity as a means to an end.
“You 'ad your bun,” said another; “you got to pay for it.”
Pray for it, you mean...”
  • Fear is ever-present: some cutlery falls to the floor and W covers his head, instinctively.
  • When asked to list those things that each of the boys desired most inside their hearts, J wrote, “muito paz” (much peace). I discover later that the last time he smoked crack was the day he came off the street. When asked how he deals with the cravings, he said simply "I go for a swim in the pool". That explains why J swims. A lot.
  • W (12 years old), points at a picture of himself that I had printed and pinned on the wall, turns to me and says “who's that?”
The week ends, as planned, with an explanation of how the house functions and an extension of invitations to each of the boys to stay. D signals his discontent by storming out, scaling the external wall, climbing onto the roof and systematically begins to remove the tiles and toss them into the street below. He laughed and taunted us as each one cascaded down and smashed to smithereens below. The police were called.

At the end of the week, of the six children who were with us for the first time, four decide to return to their lives on the street and two are added to our number. We will return to the streets in the usual way and seek to add further children in the coming weeks.

The following day, a neighbour pauses as I sweep up the debris from the 30 or so tiles in the road and, looking up at the bare wooden support beams of the decimated roof, says sympathetically “bad storm we had last night”.

“Er, yes” I reply.


Jes said...

what an astonishing blessing to touch the heart of J. that you get to daily be His hands and feet - in a way that makes sense to these boys who have experience far beyond their years - and yet may have never experienced love. i commend you and encourage you to carry on. even when you don't see it, you bless. xxxxxx

Susanna Metzger said...

Mmm you definitely need prayer! I know what it's like, to sometimes feel like you've taken steps forward, only to be thrust backward again. I'll continue to lift you up for sure!

Luke said...

You two are both friends and warriors. Thank you both for your continuing support.

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