Displaced Yankee Productions | Back To School

Back To School

It has been the most rewarding and amazing day. We were a little nervous as we headed to Chharram’s street corner, worried that his mother would change her mind at the last moment. Chharram was grinning from ear to ear when we pulled up. His little sister jumped into my arms and his mother greeted us warmly with the traditional flat clasped hands and short bow. We loaded in the van and headed to CCF for the mother’s interview – the last step in getting Chharram enrolled as a student there. All of our worries were put to rest. Chharram was not only a perfect candidate for the shelter, but his mother agreed to let him live there and study full time. Ny and I were exchanging high fives out of sight of the camera during the interview process. After the formal paperwork was done, we had our driver take the mother and little sister back to their street corner. Unfortunately, the little sister is not old enough for CCF yet, but here is hoping that in two years, she too will be enrolled. She has already won the hearts of the whole staff. Giggling, playing and throwing herself into everyone’s arms. Even Art is charmed by her as he throws her in the air a couple of times, then settles on the floor to play alphabet puzzles with her. I am fairly certain she will fit in my carry on and Cambodian customs is very lax, but the other LAX in my future – not so much. Los Angeles airport is a bit stricter and I’m fairly certain they will notice a three year old in my bag.
It is transformation time. Chharram is brought to the showers and scrubbed down. He reemerges wearing a school uniform, slickly combed back hair and a smile to break your heart. He is overjoyed and cannot quite believe his dream that he so wistfully told us about Monday in an interview on the side of the road, while he was clad only in shorts and filthy dirty is coming true. To see this life transforming before our eyes is richly rewarding. When you look at the big picture in Cambodia and see everything that is wrong, you cannot help but be discouraged and wonder what good any small amount of help can do. I promise you, these little things matter. Seeing that bright, exceptional boy dressed in school clothes and beaming with pride, made every difficult day here worthwhile. The staff gave him school supplies next and a new backpack to put it in. Then he was brought to class and introduced. It didn’t take him long to fit right in. He chatted animatedly with the other kids. Ny and I watching on the video monitor were completely enthralled at the transformation before us. Suddenly, Ny exclaimed in delight. Sitting two seats over from Chharram, unnoticed by us was Ngan! He was so changed from the boy we met in the dump yesterday we didn’t even recognize him! Apparently, Scott agreed to his admission late yesterday evening after we had already left and he was in class that morning starting his new academic career as well. Talk about exhilarating. Ny turned to me and smiled. “Two lives.” She said. “Two lives changing before our eyes.”
We were not the only ones smiling. Leakhena was flashing a thousand watt gem. Her little brother, still clad in the school clothes we bought him in Battambang that he wore to his interview yesterday, was there in her arms. He also has been accepted. It was a red-letter day. Three boys – one from the street, one from the dump and one left at a pagoda by his mother – all have found a new future and home at CCF. How privileged we are to witness this moment. I can only pray that their fortunes stay favored. It is not a stretch to see Chharram’s mother pulling him out of school because she runs low on money and needs him to beg – or for Ngan’s family to need him back at the dump. His mother told us only yesterday that he earned the most money for the family. But today we will not think of such possibilities. Today is a day of celebration.
With perhaps a small exception. Chharram’s teeth are in wretched shape. Twelve years of street living and neglect have left him with a mouthful of problems. We bring him to the dentist in the afternoon – the first he has ever seen. It is quite a job to tackle. He gets a cleaning and several crowns. He also needs teeth extracted, but he has had enough for one afternoon and has a headache. He is scheduled for the extraction another day. On the way back to CCF we stop at his street corner so he can show his mother his uniform and backpack of supplies. Sadly, for the first time ever, she is not napping on her pallet. The squatters nearby don’t know where she is but they are watching his sister. He hops out for a few minutes with her and a quick bowl of rice the neighbor’s provide. Then it is back to school for our budding scholar. He has an education and a future to get too. And he is in quite a hurry.


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