How Do You Stay Strong?
How do you stay strong?
Before we get to that question, there was first a more obvious, more urgent question,
“Where is your house?”
We had arrived at Sinoun’s* home to visit her and her family as we regularly do. But when we arrived, there is the obvious, pervading lack of a house. The block of land looks so open and bare without it, just 4 big holes where the posts once stood firmly into the ground.
“Where is your house?” we ask her and mum, with concern.
Mum explains that her husband decided to leave them and decided to take the house with him. The neighbours interject to tell us the village are furious with him. He came with some friends, dismantled their wooden and woven palm leaf house and carried it away to the very edge of the village, to where he is now staying with his extended family.
Sometimes Dads leave, and sometimes they don’t care enough to visit or provide for the children they leave behind. Sometimes they take the furniture. I remember when my Dad left when I was four and he took the dining room table. I sat under it holding on to the leg thinking he’d see I needed it to eat my breakfast off. But he took it anyway. I watched him and his brother carry it up the street. But dismantle a house and carry that away, leaving your child an empty block of land to live on? I’d never come across that before.
“We’re all so angry,” the neighbours continued, “the village leader has told him if he ever comes back he’ll be arrested.” It was clear the community were unimpressed, angry. But Mum didn’t look angry.
“How are you doing?” I asked. She told me she was doing okay. Some neighbours across the road were having her and Sinoun sleep there. She was weary more than angry. Relieved even. She was so fed up with his drinking and violence that when he said he was leaving she saw the benefit in that, and had agreed with him that he could take the house. She knew without it he wouldn’t leave and she decided she’d be better without a house and husband than with both.
Sinoun was sitting quietly throughout the conversation, looking pensive but with a quiet air of determination. I asked 13-year-old Sinoun the same question I’d asked Mum, “How are you doing?”
“I’m pleased he’s gone,” she replied, summing up the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages. “It will be more peaceful now.”
“How do you stay strong?” I asked.
“I focus on my studies. I just want to do well at school. I’ve improved from 34th to 13th. And I think of my mum. I’m concerned for her.”
Of course just because she appears to be strong and coping doesn’t mean she isn’t finding it difficult and struggling. And I worry about a child who is worrying about her mum’s wellbeing. It’s a worry she shouldn’t have to shoulder, though I get it.
We can learn from this 13 year old. Her main way of staying strong is by focusing on her study. Instead of worrying about arguments and decisions amongst adults that she has no control over, she focuses on what is right there in front of her each day – school. She focuses on something she can control – if she puts the effort in, she’s in control of the outcome. And her results will serve her for the rest of her life.
A strong child, and also quite a wise child I think.
We’ll work with mum and Sinoun, their neighbours, and the village leader and the Commune Council for Women and Children (CCWC) to figure out if there are any community systems that can help and support. We’ll work with them to help plan for their future. For now, they’re safe sleeping at their neighbour’s house, but what will they do beyond that? Does mum have family, usually a mum or sister, who they’ll go stay with? How will they purchase the materials to build a new house, without taking a loan, or leaving her daughter to go and work in Thailand? Our Social Workers will continue working with mum and Sinoun to ensure their safety, and to support them emotionally through a difficult period. We’ll also assess the options available to them and determine whether to add them to our list of House Builds. We’re in the middle of building 3 houses right now, and we’ve four more families on our list, but if there’s no way for mum to safely provide a house for her and Sinoun, we’ll see what help the neighbours and wider community can provide and most probably add them to our list.
*Name changed to protect privacy
Founder & Managing Director,