"The abandoned are still smiling,
Why can't you?"
I read this beautiful phrase on an online poster a long time ago. A poster which showed a bunch of desolate kids smiling at the camera.
I was touched when I saw it first. And the phrase stuck on.
Two days ago, we were taken to Shelter, an orphanage for HIV positive kids, located somewhere close to Ambattur, Chennai. It was a part of the 'Global Day of Giving', our CSR initiative.
I really didn't want to go. I had 2 deadlines to catch for the day and taking 4 hours from work was out of question.
But everyone else seemed excited about going. I went down to wave at the parting colleagues. And before I knew, I was sitting inside one of the cars, waving back at the office.
It was a long drive. I didn't know what to expect. I imagined skinny children, with sunken eyes, gloomy faces and torn clothes, welcome us. I shuddered. Maybe I shouldn't have followed my intuition. Can we go back, please?
I was sitting in the back of the car, alone. The gifts for the kids were neatly packed in the office's brown envelops and kept beside me. Gifts - pencils and sketch pens. They never counted as gifts to me, as a kid. Gifts meant new dresses, shoes, toys and jewellery. Pencils, rubbers and sharpeners were handed to us anyways, no matter how many we lost. They were necessary stuff, not gifts. And moreover, gift wraps were done with shiny colourful sheets. Not in brown envelops.
It took us slightly over an hour to reach Shelter. It is run by one Mr. Solomon, who works part time at 2 places to manage to find the funds to support his 'children' as he calls them. He greeted us and welcomed us warmly.
It was a small house. It was painted a dull yellow paint. But the room was beaming bright. Smiles from the 25 kids, aged from 2 to 12, brightened even the dull paint on the walls. They seemed happy.
No, they were really happy.
Solomon gave us a brief introduction about the place, the children and the malady they faced. Children who dint know who brought them into the world, who dint know what their progenitors had handed over to them, who dint know how long they would survive. Yet they were so cheerful.
We got to know their names and where they studied. We played games and told stories.
Two little girls who sat next to me were keen to know more about my 'French manicure' and complimented me on the 'beautiful ring' I was wearing. When I stretched and yawned and said 'Daddy', one of them said "Remember both your parents. Dont just say Daddy. Say Mummy too!" I dint know what to say. They wanted to know why half of my hair looked straight while the other half looked curly. Now, how do I explain 're-bonded hair' to them!
When we handed over the gifts to them, they flocked around with the vibrancy and innocence only children could offer. They were not bothered about the 'brown envelop'. Nor did they sulk asking "Colour pencils? Thats it?" Before we knew, most of them were already competing drawing cars and houses.
I wondered what kept those kids happy? How could they smile so open-heartedly!
They dint have a 'comfortable house' to go back to at the end of a long day at school.
They dint have a 'sari palu' that wiped the sweat off their foreheads as soon as they got home, nor a hand that would pat them to sleep.
Morning showers meant long queues, each day. There were no 'I first, I last!'
They helped each other with home works.
At an age where 'ghosts thrived in the darkness', they knew to survive lonely nights.
They played quietly in the ground floor so as to not disturb the little one who was critical and awaiting her time, in the floor above.
Their prayers would eventually go unanswered, but that dint stop them from praying.
What did they have in life, that still made them smile?
All they had was Solomon.
And Solomon is all they needed.
Not us, who were visitors. Who would forget all about them before we even closed the car doors and headed back to office.
These children had learnt to share and give, more than to have and receive.
This time, the 'Global day of giving' was more a 'Global day of receiving' for me.
(P.S: Those who'd like to help, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org )