Just One Child

He was standing there alone, as he often did; standing where he wasn’t supposed to be, as he often did.

Somehow he’d found his way onto one of the dirt mounds that would one day be the floor of a new classroom. He’d had to cross several narrow planks to get there, over the deep trenches we’d been digging for the past few days.

He stood there and silently watched as we finished off the last of the concreting from which we’d taken a break to walk back to camp and have lunch. It was lunch break at school and while the other children played in the ‘yard’ (little more than a cleared space between the buildings), he’d done his own thing, as he often did.

The concreting done and seeing the children starting to gather to go back to class for afternoon lessons, I reached out my hands to lift him over the trench to where he could join his classmates. As I picked him up to swing him over, I felt him reach to wrap his arms around my neck. Aware of my responsibilities in regard to child safety and not forming attachments that I could not sustain, I smiled at him and kept him at arms’ length as I carried him over to the other side.

He went off to class. We went back to work.

As we walked back to camp, he was there. Standing some distance away, he was shouting a word at us over and over again. From the cheeky look on his face, I’d guess it was a Not Nice Word. As we came closer, he ran towards us. Stopping still some way away he suddenly spat in our direction.

Shocking? Maybe. Disgusting? To some, I guess.

Me? It just endeared him to me all the more. I’ve always been attracted to the ‘naughty’ ones.

We were all, workers, students and teachers alike, heading home at the end of the day. I saw him and he came, wanting to be picked up. Perhaps against my better judgement but unable to resist, I picked him up and carried him down the hill to the turn off where he went right to go home and we went left to go back to camp. As I put him down, he grabbed for my hand, wanting to follow. A teacher arrived and intervened, shooing him away. I watched as his big sister dragged him back along the path to home.

Our last day and I asked a friend to take a photograph of me with some of the kids but most particularly with that one little boy. I wanted to pick him up but I resisted and instead knelt down beside him for the photograph.

Later, after a beautiful and emotional farewell from the village, we were walking out of the school when I passed him and his family. I reached out my hand to say goodbye to him and he grabbed it and held on tightly. My resolve broke and I leant down and gave him a hug. As I released my arms and went to straighten up, the tiny arms around my neck tightened and his feet lifted off the ground. Several times I tried to set him down and each time he held on tighter.

“Pick him up and carry him down to the corner,” suggested our guide.

So I did, walking down the hill back towards camp for us and home for him, chatting to his father with his mother and sister close behind. As we reached the point where our paths diverged, I felt his arms hold even tighter. I said goodbye and then turned to our guide who reached up and took him from me. I quickly walked away, not looking back.

Halfway back to camp, our guide caught up with me and said, “He is still crying for you.” I stopped and looked back only to see his tiny frame running along the path towards us, his mother in close pursuit. It took all my resolve not to run back to him. I stood there and watched as his mother finally caught up with him and dragged him crying back towards home.

Many tears were shed in camp that night.

In a post I wrote last year about Voluntourism, I questioned the ethics of volunteering for short periods of time in orphanages. I felt it must be cruel to bond with children and then leave them forever.

I didn’t mean to bond with him. Against all better judgment I did.

And it tore away a piece of my heart to leave him.

How anyone could volunteer in a situation where it is part of the job to bond with not just one child but many children and then to be able to just walk away at the end of it is beyond me.

It’s still there, that piece of my heart. With a tiny boy in a small village in Nepal. Just one child and my life was changed forever.

 

 

 

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71 thoughts on “Just One Child

  1. Pingback: Just One Child – shoptodayblog

  2. Heather your kind and loving heart is apparent to all of us. This little boy could see it and feel just being near you. Sending special hugs to you as I wipe away tears. You are a very special woman.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was such a touching post, Heather. It was very nice of you to help out building their community, but I think most of the villagers and especially the kids will remember you for your presence and warmth.

    That little boy sounded like he couldn’t bear to watch you leave. You certainly made a difference in his life, and I think it really was the human in you that wanted to get a little closer to him. Looked like he didn’t mind posing for your camera, and that is such a warm and fuzzy shot of you together.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved helping to rebuild the school – it felt so good to put in that manual labour to help someone – but my favourite part of the work day was when we would come back from lunch and the kids would be out playing on their lunch break. I would drop my backpack and go and play too. 🙂

      I will never forget the day we left and the image of him running along the path after me will stay with me forever.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Very touching. Not only is a part of your heart forever there, your presence is also there through the mind of a small boy who will always remember you. You made a difference physically with your project, perhaps you also made a difference in intangible ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There are so many definitions of the word “love” (“bond” is such a slavish word) and so many lesser feelings we attach to that word.. but this sounds like the real thing—magical and pure, undeniable, deep, unforgettable. Something regardless of age, sex, geography or any emotional platitudes, that resounded in both of you and was greater than either of you. A lucky and beautiful thing, and a mystery, when it happens. And it never lasts, anyway…but makes for haunting memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How heart wrenching for you. Regardless of being told not to bond with a particular child, we are human & I sense you felt a draw to this beautiful boy as he did with you.

    When I was in Morocco a few years ago, we met a number of Nomad children & experienced a similar connection. The experience made me feel so incredibly grateful for the life I have & in particularly for the opportunities provided to our children based on where we live. it is difficult to fathom that these same opportunities are not available to all children.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. How difficult, yet how beautiful. It makes me wonder why? Of all the children and volunteers, what is it that leads to a connection like this? Love is funny that way…and heartbreaking.

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  8. I’m really bad at letting go, Heather. And with a vulnerable child, so difficult. Presumably you can stay in touch and follow progress in that village? Not even sure that that’s a good idea. 😦 What a sad sweetheart. Whatever will become of him?

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  9. How could you turn off the very human-ness that brought you to that village in the first place, Heather?! I am glad for you to have made that bond with him…..Obviously, it was something meant to happen. You have perhaps inspired him and shown him in his formative years that there is goodness and there is more in the world than just his own little village. Who knows where those small seeds will take him!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a lovely thought, Torrie. Thank you.

      And you’re right. My makeup is not such that I could just distance myself dispassionately from those children. I think I fell in love with them on the first day. This one just caught my heart completely for a reason that is a mystery to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. A thought provoking post – so many things to wonder about – why/what was he yelling and why did he spit…and why was he so needy even though he has a family? I agree so much with your comments about short term volunteers at orphanages children subjected to a childhood of serial abandonments – too cruel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In regard to your first question, I do rather wish we’d had one of the guides with us at the time to ask. It has intrigued me. But as a mother of three sons and working in a field dominated by boys, I know I also just thought “Boys…..”. 🙂 With your second question, there were things I observed that may answer that question but I’ve chosen not to include them in the post. I think he has a very challenging life.

      I have never been a fan of short-term orphanage volunteering stints and this just made me even more against them. How could anyone do that and not be affected by it?

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh Heather, this is story-telling at it’s absolute best. You have offered a difficult-to-share part of yourself and moved us deeply. That complex, gorgeous little boy stands for all the children in need of more love, attention, stimulation than they receive. All the children whose life chances are lessened by circumstances beyond their control. You could so easily have enjoyed the gratification of his attention, but instead did the difficult, heart-wrenching thing of seeing the bigger picture.

    There’s a saying (can’t remember the source) that doing good ripples outward and changes the world. Just sharing this has the power to create new ripples. Su.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Su, such a moving and generous comment. Thank you. I think the hardest part of leaving was knowing how much was lacking in his life and being unable to stay and provide it. And there were others. The challenges they face…. we are so fortunate here.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks. I feel so overwhelmed just thinking about all the kids whose basic needs are just not being met and may never be. I’m always drawn to the difficult kids and seem to click with them (years of experience with the boy-child) and it is so difficult to find the balance of paying attention without creating expectations that can’t be fulfilled. I’m so full of admiration for the work that you did in Nepal, and how much difference it will make to the life of that village.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Heather! I was one of the first WE team at Lura and am going back next month for 2 weeks to help finish the school rebuild, home-staying with people of the village. Your beautiful and familiar story highlighted one of my biggest fears in this venture – the attachment I will get with the people, especially the children. A second farewell is something I don’t want to think about but your story has brought it forward. Why are we so afraid of our emotions? We should learn to accept and embrace them and enjoy the experience. I hope I will.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Simon. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I envy you! How wonderful to have the opportunity to go back and do more. And to stay with the people of the village! What an amazing experience you will have.

      I hear you about the farewell. How hard was it the first time? And now to do it again? But you are also right in that we should take hold of those emotions and take whatever we can from the experience. In the end, it can only enrich us.

      Good luck with the visit and send my love to those beautiful children. 🙂

      Like

  13. I’ve never been in a situation like this before, so I’m afraid to say that it didn’t initially occur to me about the danger of forming unsustainable attachments. It must be so hard to keep people, especially children, at arm’s length in such cases. It sounds like it was a struggle to maintain the distance at times, but I think you were right to try. I guess it’s a bit like the emotional detachment that nurses often need in their job.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. My experiences in Nepal included several incidents of spitting by childten and adults. It is not meant to be offensive. Some westerners think this is disgusting, but this is a natural way people, in some parts of the world, get rid of throat or nasal congestion. It is us that places a negative connotation on it and take offence. They may think us westerners disgusting, ourselves, for blowing our nose or spitting into a hanky or tissue and then stuffing this into our POCKET!!! If I think about it I thik we ate the gross ones….. In some ways spitting is preferable. But this little guy was also very angry about something – perhaps someone warned him of your impending departure and he was angry about this because you had shown him kindness in his difficult life and he wanted you to stay. Perhaps he felt misunderstood or different from his community in some way. He certainly is adorable and makes us feel sorry for him and his possible predicaments. This is a very difficult thing to experience MOSY but also difficult for the child. Even so, you assisted all the community by volunteering and your small deed may well be remembered by many. I still remember the children we met in Nepal some 30 years ago. I have inner torments between assisting them through direct action or aid programs and being complicit in a tourist “fishbowl effect.” How did you reconcile this in your own mind?” I still haven’t yet found the answer.

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    • Oh yes, I’ve travelled enough to be familiar with the nasal clearing purpose of spitting. This was definitely not that. He didn’t seem angry about anything either really. I honestly just think he was being naughty as so many small boys are at times. Seeing what sort of reaction he might get. 😉

      Part of my difficulty in writing this post was asking myself “Do I have the right?” I’m putting this boy’s life on display in a way. I’m still uncomfortable with it but I know it also highlights the challenges these children face, the work organisations like World Expeditions are doing, the pitfalls involved in this type of volunteering and I think that’s also important. It’s a delicate balance and I’m not sure I’ve got it right and like you I don’t think I have the right answer yet either. All we can do is what we feel is right and hope some good comes out of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. But then I start to feel guilty simply about being in the position where I can sit here and cogitate about whether it is right or wrong. But a small helping hand is better than doing nothing at all I suspect, and it is important to show the rest of the world how the Nepalese live. Were the Maoists active in this area?

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s always annoyed me when people say “I don’t donate to [insert charity organisation here] because I heard only half the money actually goes to the program.” To which my response is “So they get nothing instead of 50c in every dollar? That makes sense. Not.” My personal view is that every little bit helps in some way and is far better than doing nothing because it’s all too complicated.

          I don’t think so. Not that we were made aware, anyway.

          Liked by 1 person

  15. This chimed with me as my daughter has just told me (trying, but not quite succeeding, to make a joke of it) that when she had been teaching art in an orphanage in Nepal a few years ago, she nearly brought home an eight-year-old girl who had totally stolen her heart.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That would have been so much harder as the child didn’t have family. This little boy has a home and family so there was no consideration that I could take him home with me but it was still hard to leave those children in such challenging circumstances. At least, having been involved in a project like this, I have the option to still do what I can from here even if it’s just financial assistance.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. My heart expanded as I read this post. Then it squeezed in distress. Then it grew a tad larger. What is the answer? Do we withhold our love/ our hugs, to make it easier? Easier for whom? Us, or the child? I think each hug and each outreach of love stays with a child and an adult. You showed that little boy that you care. The world cares. He’ll hold that in his heart forever.

    Liked by 2 people

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  18. Your moving story gave me shivers. What a beautiful little boy. I think it is better that you both had your ‘moment’ together than to have never met at all. But it must have been horribly difficult to part.
    I found you through Sue Slaught’s blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for coming over to my blog, Lisa. Your adventures are amazing and I’m so happy to meet another friend of Sue’s.

      And thank you for your comment. I know I am glad to have had the experience, as hard as it was, but I do hope there was some benefit for this child also. I still hold out hope of the opportunity to return one day and see him again.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Everybody talks about how volunteering can be so rewarding, but the effect your leaving could have on them never crossed my mind. Thanks for this beautiful piece and that wonderful insight.
    I’m sure that boy smiled a lot more because of you than he cried, and that’s what you should remember and hold close to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Pingback: Just One Child — Master of Something I’m Yet To Discover | Therapy-cooking

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