A few weeks ago I had to undergo a Hiatus Hernia operation. “Not very difficult”, I was told, it involved key-hole surgery and I would be out and about in no time. Which I was.
A few weeks later I had to fly to Bangkok for a Childline Thailand Board meeting. I am on the Board there and we are making several ground breaking decisions about which I should be able to talk after June.
I am so proud because I was, with other people, able to facilitate the creating and opening of The Hub Bangkok – a centre for homeless street children. We situated it within minutes of Bangkok railway station right where so many homeless kids congregate.
Homeless kids, wherever they are, rip at my very soul. Maybe as a lonely child not fitting in, I know what it feels like. What I can say though, is that feeling “grips my heart” wherever I come across these kids whether it be Sydney or Darwin Australia, Thailand, Cambodia, you name it. People often say to me “Why don’t you just look after your own in Sydney, Australia. Surely there is enough to keep you busy there? Why get caught up in all these other places?”
My answer to them is “How can I not?” Kids are kids, abuse is abuse. That look homeless kids have in their eyes wherever they be, talks the same language. It’s the language of loss, rejection, confusion and sadness that to me speaks volumes.
Most of society at best ignores these kids or at worst actively exploits and rejects them. That could be in a first world, a developing world or a third world country; We human beings treat them the same.
Like I said for some reason I don’t and time after time all around the world meet “saints” who don’t either. So, yesterday we had the Childline Thailand Board meeting. Made our serious decisions and each of us began planning what to do the next day.
For me it was simple, spend as much time as I could with the homeless kids at The Hub, Bangkok.
My friend and co-Hub worker, Ilya said “Rev Bill, I’ll meet you tomorrow and we’ll walk to The Hub”.
Now my hotel is about an hour’s walk away from The Hub and I love walking it with Ilya as we come face to face with street life in suburban Bangkok. It is always hot but I never notice the heat. There is so much of interest going on all around.
Of particular interest now are the so-called “riots” – the red and yellow shirted protests and counter protests. The yellow shirts want the end of Thaksin Shinawatra and his Prime Minister sister and the red shirts support them. Thousands of people are in either camp and during the three times in the past six months or so that I have walked through the protests, I find it is like walking through the crowds at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show. There all around is the shemozzle of tents and sleeping, the selling of gifts and trinkets, the selling of food and water, clothes, you name it. Sometimes it is hard to work out if it is a market or a rally.
I told Ilya how I was looking forward to this time.
The next morning dawned and I was up early getting all my Australian work done so I could meet with Ilya about lunch time.
Then, out of the blue, everything went belly up, and I really do mean belly up! For some reason my hiatus hernia operation decided to play up or I had eaten something that really disagreed with me. My stomach was filled with these dreadful pains which, to be honest, I knew would ultimately go away but severely debilitated me. As well as that my body broke out with all the sweats and sensations people suffering a stomach upset undergo and all I could think of was “bugger, bugger, bugger”. I won’t be able sit with the street kids today and hear their stories and let them know at least someone cares to listen.
Anyway I thought, “I’m not going to let this get me down” and when Ilya turned up we decided we would walk half the way there and catch the train the final half. With luck our walk went through the current protest. The yellow shirts had taken over a huge Bangkok park and turned it into what looked like the Glastonbury Folk Festival. Only it wasn’t folk coming from the stadium, it was hard edged rock with anti Prime Minister satirical lyrics. But the music was good and the band was good and the singer was good and all those who weren’t busy selling stuff were jiving away to the music. I thought “What a novel way to attempt to bring down a Prime Minister!” Fun and music.
Anyway we finally arrived at The Hub.
By the time we got there I was really buggered. As an aftermath of my operation I had learned the best way to deal with the symptoms was walking and meditating so I decided to sit in the office of The Hub and meditate. That I hoped would give me my energy back. Anyway, I fell asleep and slept in my chair for a good hour and a half. I woke up realising I would only be able to spend a short time with the kids as I would have to leave to catch my plane. Anyway, I felt too rotten to really do anything and really be hopeful for anyone.
When I finally opened my eyes I found myself staring straight into the eyes of Liáp. Liáp is not technically homeless but disabled. His disabilities have basically led him to be rejected by his family for reasons I can scarcely imagine. Liáp is one of the kindest kids I know and always willing to help. He is the one who, when asked to do odd jobs, does them with a smile. Nothing is too much of an imposition for him and the lovingness and the warmth of his inner being exudes from his face.
“He has been worried about you”, Ilya said. “He has been sitting on the floor looking at you for the past hour”. Now Liáp and I have history.Every time I visit I say hello to Liáp and his infectious smile makes me feel good inside. So, I reached out and tussled his hair. I was surprised to see tears in his eyes. A homeless Thai boy crying for a Westerner who had been stupid enough not to look after his own health! Liáp and I traded a few words. Him in Thai and me in English. He hadn’t been able to say my name properly so I taught him to say Bill. Then I see in his eyes that sadness that I instantly recognise in rejected kids so I say to him “I’m your Australian grandfather, Liáp”. He looks at me quizzically so I get Ilya to translate for me. His eyes filled with tears again.
That’s how it is! How can anyone not take these kids in? How can anyone reject them like they have been rejected by those who are supposed to love them?
I left The Hub determined to not let what happened to me today get in the way and the only way I can think to help all the other kids who were there, some sleeping on the floor; some taking lessons from teachers; some learning music and some listening to rap and dancing. Is to write this for you all to see and share.
For these kids The Hub Bangkok is a place of safety shelter and hope.
I am dedicating this story to another boy I worked with there, Beer. Beer had severe disabilities too and died an agonising long slow death from AIDS. And there is a little girl in Poipet I am trying to help who is a victim of trafficking and abuse. Her “owners” force her to do anything at all to bring in money from Western tourists (mainly male and mainly Australian). She has to bring in a quota of dollars every day. The last time I saw her she had a massive bruise on her forehead after being bashed for not bringing in enough money.
It is so hard to write anything honestly about kids in this region without coming face to face with the tag “paedophile”. I have to be very careful how I relate to these kids as there are always paedophiles there ready to abuse them and I don’t want them to, in any way feel I’m just another sicko male. Then I would lose all credibility with them. It bothers me that even writing this could attract unhealthy, mainly males to offer to ‘help’.
In the Gospels, there is a wonderful story of Jesus and an outsider woman. A Syrio-Phoenician woman. This woman asks Jesus for help to cure her sick daughter. Jesus responds in a racist way saying he doesn’t deal with dogs. The woman responds by saying “even dogs eat the crumbs from under the table”. At that very moment you can see Jesus change. He realises that in this world there are not Jews and everyone else there is actually only everyone. Life, the good and the bad, is shared by everyone.
Like I said in the beginning, how can we not help disadvantaged kids wherever they are? If you want to help either financially or otherwise, please contact me. Don’t waste my time and don’t come for unhealthy reasons.
That way my being sick today means the kids I could have spent time with, won’t miss out.