Western culture especially seems to think of children as needing constant protection. And perhaps there is some truth in that. But, because we are always so careful about what kids do or see or experience, I wonder if we sometimes forget how strong children can be, how resilient many of them truly are. If I’ve learned nothing else from my time in Nepal, I’ve learned that much.
I learned it from the former street children that we visited, who are now in school instead of sniffing glue and begging for money. They could easily have stayed on the street, intimidated by gang leaders, hooked on glue, and unwittingly encouraged by well-meaning tourists handing out food and money. But they didn’t.
They accepted the offer of a refuge away from all that, and they continue to thrive. And when you see them interact with adults, and with one another, it’s difficult to believe that they once led such hard and seemingly hopeless lives. The smile and the laughter and the excitement at visitors would imply a much happier past. But, in truth, it just proves how strong they are.
I’ve also learned about resilience from each and every one of my boys in Umbrella, and from the Umbrella kids overall. In the first month I was here, I would catch myself thinking how much fun it must be to grow up in a house with so many brothers and friends. My boys love each other so much and are so constantly entertaining themselves that it was too easy to forget the circumstances that brought them to Umbrella in the first place.
It was too easy to forget that some of them were rescued from poorly run and exploitative children’s homes – ones that were doing more harm than good. It was too easy to forget that some of them had witnessed a parent take his or her own life – or the life of a spouse. It was too easy to forget that some of them had no parents at all, and no family willing to take them in. It was too easy to forget that some of them served as house servants, a position little better than a slave.
And yet, even knowing all of that, and even thinking it as I look at these kids, it seems like an entirely different lifetime for them. If I had seen or experienced the horrors they have, I imagine I would find it nearly impossible to smile, laugh, talk, or trust. But these kids do that every day.
They are strong and they are resourceful. They are determined and intelligent and deserving of the brightest futures. They are welcoming and friendly and trusting, when they have every right not to be.
These children are more resilient than I could have imagined, and more inspiring than I even believed possible.
I have spent nearly three (short) months learning from them, and I realize now that that’s not even close to long enough.