At six, most kids go to school to learn their ABCs and 1-2-3’s, but this ash-covered boy learns life through first-hand experience of poverty, hunger, garbage and flies.
He is Avatar.
The kid’s name fascinated me. I thought of the movie “Avatar,” where animated characters are blue-colored. But this kid is not blue but gray. After all the dumpsite would turn anyone’s skin into gray.
The dumpsite becomes the playground for Avatar with his cousins and other little ones whose parents work as scavengers in the dumpsite.
Like in the movie, their community is almost isolated and not known to many. Who would have thought that people could survive living beside the dump? Instead of flowers, plastics and bottles are the common sight around it. Instead of butterfly kisses, they feel flies kissing their faces. Instead of playground, the dumpsite is a place of fun.
After serving in the Looban, KKFI saw the need for little ones to have a safe space for playing and learning. It was June 2015, Supervised Neighborhood Play started for 0 – 6-year-old children in the community living beside the dumpsite. It aims to prepare the children when they enroll in Grade 1. Avatar is one of 20 children who sing songs, create an art work with their little hands, and play together.
“Maliligo na ako!(I will take a bath now!),” he would exclaim whenever he sees me coming. He would do this every time he spots my pink bag, where I put the things that I use for teaching.It was a signal for him that it is class time again.
He tries to clean himself and wears any clothes he could find at home.Nobody’s there to attend to him. After that, he would show up to me and say: “Naligo na ako” (I have taken a bath!) and waits for my affirmation “Good job, Avatar!”
There are times when he refuses to come during our special events because he has nothing decent to wear. One day I asked him, “Where is your mom?” Innocently, he replied, “I don’t know. She doesn’t love me because she left me.”
My heart broke when I heard these words coming from a little boy. Later, I learned that his grandparents are the ones taking care of him. It is usual for him to say during class, “Ate Love, gutom na ako (Ate Love, I am hungry).”He rarely takes any breakfast before coming to class. What we feed him serves as his breakfast and lunch.
Yet in spite of life’s difficulty, he remains positive. And responsible, too. He can be told to do things like fixing the things we use, clean the classroom area, and even call his friends.
One time after class, as I was holding him in my arms, told him: “You will go to a formal school soon, sweetheart.”
“But I don’t know how to write my name yet,” he replied shyly.
With the help of volunteers, he started tracing his name.
“Kaya ko na, Ate Love! (I can already do it, Ate Love!)”he declared one day. With a pencil in his hand, he slowly wrote M-A-R-K J-A-S-O-N.
At last, he has succeeded in writing his real name. There are still many things to conquer as he grows up. With God’s grace, despite the inevitable failures along the way to the greater successes, Avatar will pursue and keep his faith.
Like in Avatar, the movie, goodness will prevail. Avatar, the once and still sometimes colored-gray kid, will likewise enjoy a happy ending.