For as long as I can remember, I have always loved children. If I’m out and about and see a fat little baby, all I want to do is pick them up and snuggle. One of my favourite things to do is sit at my brother’s house and snuggle with my little baby nephew, Frankie, while watching Sophie and Aidan, his brother and sister, play. I love kids and pray that one day God would bless me with kids of my own, both biological and adopted. So when it comes to injustices in the world, what hurts me most and makes me most angry, is seeing children suffer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard seeing adults suffering, but it’s something else when it comes to children. Children should not be living in poverty or suffering abuse. Children should not be worrying about where their next meal is coming from, or worrying about a bomb striking their village or school. They should be able to play freely. They should be able to access clean water and healthy food and education. Every child should be able to go to school safely and should be given every opportunity to fulfil their dreams. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening in parts of the world.
On my recent trip to Cambodia, I came across this little girl at a school we were visiting. She was a tiny three-year old girl walking around barefoot, wandering in and out of the classrooms. We found out that her parents had migrated to Thailand for work, so she was in the care of her grandmother who ran a little food cart at the school gate. One of the students I was with starting playing with her and holding her hand and this little girl just stuck to her like glue. At one point I went and stood with them and when I reached out my hands to the little girl to come to me, after staring at me for a few seconds she raised her arms towards me and I picked her up. As I held her and tried tickling her, she just stared at me; no expression on her face, no laughter, no smile. She just stared at me. I didn’t think too much of it at that moment as many of the kids in the villages we visited had rarely, if ever, seen a white person, so I figured this little girl was just in shock at the big group of white folk around her. I put her down and left, leaving her with the students.
A little while later we were all out in the open playground and I saw her amongst the school kids. When she saw me, she made her way over to me and just stood with me, so I crouched down and collected her in a loose hug. It melted me! It absolutely melted my heart that she remembered me and walked over, so I began to tickle her gently, hoping to make her laugh. Nothing. Okay, let’s try again. I tickled her some more and snuggled her a little but still, nothing. No emotion or reaction. She just stood there and stared at me with this empty expression. At one point, her grandmother came over and she must have told her to smile because she just randomly broke out this beautiful picture perfect smile and held it for a few seconds. I burst out laughing because it was so random and cute, but when she stopped smiling, her eyes instantly went back to having that emptiness in them and she went back to having no expression. And my heart started to hurt.
The photo above is her and I. You can’t see my face as it’s covered by the hat but during the time that the photo was taken, I was quietly whispering words of love over her:
You are beautiful.
You are loved.
You are worthy.
You are seen.
You are loved.
I repeated those words over and over to her, quietly in English. I knew she couldn’t understand what I was saying but I just needed to say them to her. I just needed to speak the words to this little girl who had a look of defeat and hopelessness all over her. And all the while that I spoke those words, she stood there in my arms staring at me. One of the teachers that was with me said to me that the little girl clearly just wanted to be loved, and it’s true; she was responding to the hugs and smiles and cuddles we were offering. It still hurt my heart. As we were getting ready to leave I was taking a photo with some of the mammas that were sitting down with their kiddos and the little girl was bought over to be in the photo with me. Again, she was told to smile and she did, but as soon as the photo was done, the blank expression was back. Despite the toys an stickers she was given, she maintained that expressionless look.
I didn’t say anything at the time to anyone on the trip, but that little girl broke me. She absolutely broke my heart and every time I looked at her photo I wanted to cry. I didn’t, but I wanted to. I very much wanted to but I held it all in until the end of my trip. Until I had said goodbye to my team and sent them on their merry way and I had boarded my flight to Sydney. Then I cried. I just sat in the plane and silently cried, not realising at the time why I was crying, just crying quietly as the air hostess watched me. I stared out the window and cried until we were well and truly in the sky, then I went to the bathroom, washed my face and went back to my seat.
But I have not forgotten that little girl. I still look at her photo and my heart still aches. It aches for her and for the millions of other children like her around the world that have lost hope. The millions of children that get no love or affection from anyone. The millions of children that are being abused or mistreated and have no one to step in and hold them and tell them it will be okay. They have no one to tell them they are loved and beautiful and a gift from above. And I wish with everything in me that I could gather all those children and tell them how beautiful they are and just snuggle with them. I just want to love on them, but I can’t. And that breaks me a little more.
I know that I can’t save every child out there, regardless of how much I may want to, but I know that I can continue to help in any way possible to help the people in those communities to help these kids. I can keep supporting missionaries and aide agencies so that they can step in and help improve the situation. I can continue to pray. And I can continue to go on these trips and come home and share the story with people in the hope that they would want to do something. I will keep talking about these people I meet, and the needs of people in developing countries, because I can. Because I must. Because I need to. And all I can hope and pray for is for others to have their heart broken enough to want to do something, too.