Here we are: our second day of teaching and it’s taken on a life of its own. It’s become a different reality and it’s going to be very difficult to describe. I am so sad, angry and frustrated as I write this!
The day started off with a bang and we gave two fantastic lessons at the restaurant where the street children go for their meal of the day (LRDE). To describe the kids’ faces as happy with us is an understatement. They love our Helen O’Grady lessons, and we are settling nicely into our new routine. So far so good.
The director of LRDE, Mr Yves Chiu, suggested we go and see where and how some of these street children live, so after our morning lessons, Paula and I set out on a journey that would affect us both profoundly.
I’ve never experienced anything like it – it’s like something we might watch on National Geographic, but so far removed from our own reality that it defies description. But to walk through a slum, to see shacks made of rusting corrugated metal sheeting on stilts because the river rises when it rains – I say river because it is basically drainage: worse than bilge water whose fetid smell just permeates the air.
Each shack homes an extended family, many house several families living together. Because of the daily monsoon rain the pathways are filthy and muddy, and are strewn with mounds of garbage littering the sides, clothes on washing lines, families’ meagre belongings laying on the floor, women cooking or washing clothes, grubby dogs, cats and chickens running amuck and we even encountered a dead rat or two.
The monsoon also means that when it rains, nobody sleeps. They just can’t because water comes through every nook and cranny, and the entire hovel is made of nooks and crannies. No wonder some of the children were so exhausted this morning.
These alleyways are just teeming with children, running around naked and barefoot amongst the garbage and sewage, whilst their mothers breast feed, scrub clothes or cook a meagre meal of boiled rice. In spite of the abject poverty, they all smiled at us and waved and a couple invited us into their homes. Not one asked us for money. They were just happy to receive us.
It’s one thing to talk about the shack-like constructions, the tiny rooms - some not more than 1m squared - where entire extended families live, the mismatched clothes the people wear – it’s different to totally capture the sense of hopelessness… We’ve taken a multitude of photos and videos which we will be uploading on the ‘net ASAP; but here today I just can’t describe it accurately or do it justice.
I hope I won’t offend anybody back home when I say how ridiculous and uber-petty it is to pass as impoverished an elderly lady who lives in a state-funded apartment with a broken soap dish. What I witnessed today is true poverty and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
We visited the home of little Sreymech, who I mentioned yesterday, who lives in the slum with her grandmother and younger siblings. They welcomed us with genuine warmth and hospitality into the shack they share with two other families. A little aside - I’m very tall, as you know and at one point I bashed my head against a rafter and I swear the whole place just shook… and I thought for a moment we may end up in the river below…
Back to Sreymech – she actually represents the little hope that exists here – she is at school, speaks very good English and wants to become a doctor. And I believe she will. And yet, she is just one spark of hope in a sea of hopelessness. Being here, it is easy to understand why some people would ‘sell’ their kids for adoption (or worse) – anything to get them away from this wretched life.
The reality is that for less than the cost of a beer every day, a child could get an education. I will certainly be sponsoring a child once I get back to Malta.
It just started pouring again, and I can’t help thinking that the families we visited today will not be getting much sleep.