It is very traditional in Thailand for young boys to spend several weeks or months as a monk apprentice as the local temple. They will shave their head, beg for alms, and study Buddhism. After the prescribed time, the boys will return to their homes and resume their normal lives.
So it was rather unusual when a Buddhist monk brought a young boy to ZOE Children’s Homes earlier this year asking us to take care of him! Dteeng was about 13 years old and had been sleeping around one of the local wats (temples). He was homeless, apparently parentless, and stole whatever he could to eat. The monks could not control him and asked us if we could help him.
Now, when children first come to ZOE, we do not immediately integrate them into our main children’s home. We have several safe houses where we take them until we feel they are ready to integrate. Dteeng did not want to stay at ZOE. He was determined to run away! We had to have three of our house fathers watch him 24 hours a day (each in an 8-hour shift). At night, the house father had to sleep outside Dteeng’s bedroom door on the floor blocking the door so that when he tried to open the door to escape, it would bump the father and wake him up! After a week had passed and there was no indication Dteeng would agree to stay at ZOE, we were wondering what to do next.
The house fathers were at a loss and were praying for wisdom. Then, a group of three teenage boys who had been at ZOE for some time, approached one of the house fathers. They had overheard what was going on with Dteeng. The three boys asked to be taken to Dteeng to talk with him. They said “We know exactly how he feels. He is scared. He doesn’t trust anyone. Let us talk with him and we’ll let him know that ZOE is a good place.” So the fathers took the three boys over to meet with the new boy. After spending a few hours together, Dteeng opened up to them and began talking. Oh, I didn’t mention that for the whole week at the safe house, Dteeng never said one word! The next day, he said he was ready to visit the Children’s Home. He was so overwhelmed with all the greetings and smiles and hugs that the very next day he told the house fathers he was ready to stay at the Children’s Home.
When he first came to the Children’s Home, Dteeng stuck very closely to those three boys and they really watched over him like big brothers. Whenever we adults spoke with him – or tried to talk to him – he would avert his eyes, not say anything, and get away as fast as possible. Recently, we had a special talent show at ZOE and there he was, up front, singing with his team. Afterwards, Dteeng came and sat down on the arm of the couch where I was sitting and laid his head on my shoulder. This boy’s face has literally taken on a new appearance in the past few months! As the proverb says, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.”