"Jadi bila ada masalah, Kecus pergi kepada siapa? Kecus ada beritahu orang lain tak?"
(When you have any problems, who do you go to? Do you tell anyone?"
"Kecus cuma menangis sendiri. Kecus beritahu Tuhan"
(Kecus only cries to myself. Kecus tells God")
I just returned from Indonesia 3 days ago, from a place situated somewhere in West Kalimantan called Singkawang. You'll probably may not have heard of it as neither have I before this. This trip was different from my Laos experience - it was more challenging, both professionally (because I had to lead the team) and personally (because I was down with diarrhea+vomiting+fever) but yet one thing remained unchanged, how it continued to reached into the deepest of my heart and somehow, kept doing wonders to my soul.
Undeniably, there were many highlights from the field trip but one that stood out most for me personally , was meeting this extraordinary 13-year-old girl named Kecus. Her name means "harvest time".
Listening to her, watching her and even now, remembering her...my eyes are collecting tears.
This is a young girl who does not know where her father is after he left the family 5 years ago, resulting to her mother sinking into depression and becoming unstable ever since. She constantly needed medication to keep her 'stable', which sometimes can be difficult for a poor family. When we met her, she mentioned her mother has ran out of medication, which caused her to burst into anger, shouting vulgar words at her for no apparent reasons and refusing to allow her to play with other children in the village.
Her two elder sisters has left home, one married and the other working somewhere in Malaysia. She has not heard from them. Her 16 year-old brother is too ashamed of his family background that he dropped out from school, refusing to return. He works at the paddy field but the field is not theirs, he gets paid if he goes to work which means if he doesn't, there are no wages for the day. Kecus takes care of her 9 year-old younger sister, who skipped school because she was lazy on the day we visited.
5am is the time when I'm still in bed and Kecus is already up - she has taken over the role of her mom, boiling water and cooking for the family. She then starts her journey to school at 6am, by foot. 30mins one way. School finishes at noon and again, another 30mins home, by foot. Then its time for her to go to the paddy fields to help her brother until 5pm. We noticed her left hand, which she tried to hide subtlely from us - red spots all over, rashes. A common after-effect from working long hours at the paddy fields.
This girl excels in school, ranking first the last semester. There is no subject she least like, she loves school. In school, she is taught about the rights of election, the rights of children and she aspires to be a 'guru agama', which means a pastor. Yes, Kecus believes in Christ. She has never been out of her village, not even to the small town of Singkawang but yet she has heard so much about Eropah (Europe) that she hopes to visit one day.
When asked if she has any questions for the 3 Malaysian youths we brought along, she asked gently yet intelligently for a child her age "Macam mana sekolah di Malaysia? Apa yang kamu belajar?" (How's school in Malaysia? What do you learn?)
And waited for the answer with much interest. Our dialogues with her ended with one of my colleagues giving her words of encouragement, which left many of us already at the verge of tears.
Later that day, I sat with her during lunch. I knew moments spent with Kecus will be engraved in my heart for as long as I live. Yes, it's a strong statement but I want it to stay that way.
I have never been so moved by a 13 year-old before, never so inspired, never so amazed, never so humbled. If I could pour all my vocab out, still it will not level to the whole experience of meeting Kecus.
Before parting ways, I took out an orange band I have always been wearing when on trips and gave it to her. "Kecus, bila ada masalah lain kali, jangan simpan ya. Kecus kena beritahu. Ini untuk Kecus. Kecus ingat World Vision kalau Kecus ada masalah, World Vision akan bantu Kecus." (Kecus, when you have problems next time, don't keep it to yourself ya. Kecus must tell others. This is for you. Remember World Vision when you come across any difficulties and we will help you)
She asked me "Apa itu World Vision?" (What is World Vision?)
"ADP". And she understood me well.
Kecus is currently a sponsored child under World Vision Malaysia's Child Sponsorship Programme. World Vision is helping to keep her in school by paying for her school fees and will be seeking ways to provide medication for her mother.
Children like Kecus must be kept in school where they can study and reach their potentials and not be working. They too have dreams and ambitions. This is a child who despite her circumstances, wants to be a pastor and see Europe. She may just be one of the many stories of children living in poor conditions around the world but because I've had the honour to meet her, she is not just a story.
She is Kecus, an expression of great strength and hopes for a better future.