After twenty-one years of working at the Father Ray Foundation, I thought I had seen everything. I have heard the most horrendous stories of what adults have done to children. I have seen the scars of abuse, both physical and psychological, and I have seen fear and sadness in the eyes of children when they come to live with us.
But I have also seen children being children again, to start smiling, knowing that they are safe and no one will hurt them again.
Just after the New Year celebrations, four new children arrived at the Father Ray Children’s Village from an organisation in northern Thailand. An elder sister and her two younger brothers, together with an eight-year-old boy, who had spent the past year living together.
The manager drove them to Pattaya, handed over all the official documents and as he was about to leave, he announced, in front of the staff and many of the children, that if things did not work out, he would be happy to take the children back. Well, not all of them, he said he would take the sister and the brothers, but he pointed to the eight-year-old and announced loudly, ‘but I don’t want him!’
Imagine how he felt; both parents are dead, his arms and legs are covered with scars from where his grandparents used to whip him, and he has traveled across the country to be pointed at and told, ‘I don’t want him.’
For the first few days, he never smiled, he would move his lips and show his teeth, but there was no joy behind the smile, no happiness in his eyes. But as the days passed, he began to realise that he was safe.
I recently went with him to the local bank to open an account. All the children have accounts, we encourage them to save their pocket money, but even though he had no money, he wanted to have an account, to be like all the other kids.
As we sat in the bank watching videos on my phone, his fingers moved from one scar to the next, from his arms to his legs, scratching, rubbing the hard and misshaped skin.
I asked if they hurt, he nodded and while we sat laughing at the videos, I could not help thinking about what he must go through each day.
When he is showering, he can feel them on his arms and legs, his clothes rub on them, and when he looks in the mirror, he can see the scars on his cheeks, his neck and his forehead—a constant reminder of what his grandparents did to him.
When it was his turn to see the bank clerk, I handed this penniless little boy two crisp 100 Baht notes to put into his new account.
Two hundred Baht, it’s not a lot, but it was the most money this young boy has ever had, and he signed the forms with care, slowly writing his name as if he was signing the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence and even behind his mask we could see his smile.