Spending time at Agape

The last place I think most of us expect to find joy is in a bamboo hut surrounded by mud, but that is exactly where I find it every week at 4pm.

I started visiting Agape a few months ago, but only in August did I begin really participating in the life of the school and dormitory on a regular basis.

Agape is one of the new projects Room to Grow Foundation has been investigating. We will be fundraising for the project starting this month and what an amazing project it is. I had no idea how amazing the first time I picked my way through the puddles and mud to talk to the boarding house master, David.

David is a Burmese man who started the school near the Moei River, which divides Thailand from Burma. He noticed that near the border, especially near the Friendship Bridge, there were many children begging. Most of them were not in school and had missed too much education to be able to access the school system.

Agape began as a place where students of any age could go to get their primary education. Students as old as 14 attend the program where they are helped into formal education without feeling ashamed of their age. In addition, there is usually a good amount of singing and playing that goes on, something kids on the street don’t often get to do.

One day, David was down on the riverbed, talking to people who made temporary homes from tarps in no-man’s land. There he met three girls and their brother. The children’s mother had been arrested and had died in jail. The children’s father died soon after, leaving them alone in no-man’s land.

That’s when the boarding house started, even though David only had enough funding for a school. Within a very short time, more than thirty children were staying at the school, eating whatever they could afford, but living in a far safer and more stable environment than the riverbed.

In March 2008, soldiers from Burma set fire to everything on the river bed, forcing people from their homes. The soldiers claimed they were trying to catch criminals. In actual fact, there is a great deal of cross-border criminal activity including drug trade, illegal smuggling and people trafficking, including the traffic of children. Although many of the people who live on the riverbed are simply poor, it is not a safe place to live.

Environmentally speaking, the riverbed is unsafe. During the rainy season, the river rises until there is very little space to live. Between floods and fire, between crime and poverty, the riverbed is probably one of the worst places for a child to grow up, especially a child without a family.

Knowing all this, and knowing how little Agape has to run, I was expecting to feel pity when I visited. But pity was the last thing I felt. Instead, I felt power.

I met a man who is able to pull together whatever he can and use it to maximum effect in order to create a warm home for children in need. They may not have much curry with their dinner, and some of the children may have to hold up their pants because the elastic in the waistband is so worn out it doesn’t hold up anymore, but there is so much color, so much laughter and so much life in that place, it takes one’s breath away.

Given any opportunity, these children will sing and sing loudly! Given any provocation they will dance and dance joyously. Every Tuesday when school finishes, I am blessed to spend thirty minutes to an hour singing and dancing with them, sharing their joy and their energy and their endless delight.

The boarding house students are in desperate need for money for their daily food, as well as for necessities such as blankets, mats, mosquito nets and sandals. We are currently fundraising for this project and if there is anything you can do to help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. These are amazing children who deserve an amazing childhood.

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