Faces of Desperation: Girl with the God-Given Smile

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Aid workers continue to be on alert in Pakistan amid reports of deadly Taliban attacks against foreigners helping with flood relief efforts in the country. Kumar Periasamy serves as the director for International Operations and Programs at Operation Blessing International. The following is the Singapore native's firsthand account of the situation in the Taliban-oppressed region.

It is 6:30 a.m. in the morning. Mostly women and children seem to be getting ready for work. Young teenage girls were preparing breakfast. Men sipping a cup of tea. Those who were rushing to work had a quick breakfast, and by 8 a.m., the camp is almost empty.

These ambitious people would find any work to do. For eight hours of work, they received only $1.20. Therefore, each family also puts their children to work to earn extra cash.

The only ones left in the camp were children in their teens and younger who took care of their siblings. One such young girl was Begum. I noticed her the first day - she must be at least 9-years-old - carrying her younger sibling. She would be following me while I am at the camp. I just could not resist noticing her; she reminded me of my daughter. I got to know her a little bit.

Her days start off early. She prepares the wood stove and helps her mom to make bread and tea. She cleans the house and puts all the beddings in place. She packs the leftover bread for lunch. Untill her parents left, she was busy doing something.

When they were off to work, Begum more than takes care of herself. She also takes care of her little brother, who is with her all day long. She has never been to school, and when she was sick, her parents treated her with herbal medicines. I had not seen her change her clothes in the last three days. But she always had a beautiful smile.

During the medical camp, I was looking for her, but she was not to be found. I asked the village leader her whereabouts and he said, "Begum had to work today along with her parents." When I told him that this was an important day for all the kids be to seen by the doctor, his reply was, "But what would we do when our children do not work?"

I was so disappointed -- children at a very young age working rather than having a decent education and enjoying their childhood.

Many children showed up at the medical camp. The doctor mentioned that most of the children seen here had water borne diseases. We had the right medicines and treatment for the children. Just as we were about to close, I saw Begum with her brother.

Her parent's brought her back to the camp, because she was not well. She was still wearing the same clothes.  Her hair was messy, but she had the most beautiful smile. I brushed her tangled hair and said, "God loves you." She did not understand a word I said, but her smile said it all. She was seen by the doctor and given medicines.

But Begum's day did not end there. Whether she was sick or not -- she had chores at home, and she had to prepare dinner before her parent's came home from work. She gets no rest, but she sure has that God-given smile.

It was a long, hot day. We provided towels, soap, and shampoo for the children to take a bath. With the Life Saver Jerrycan, we provided clean drinking water. More than 100 children received free medical care.

At 4 p.m., I started the journey toward Peshawar to meet with Operation Blessing's partner Humedica, which was doing a medical outreach in relief camps. There were no flights out of Sukkur. Therefore, I decided to take the 18-hour road journey.

At about 1:30 a.m. on the road, the Lord brought to my mind the faces of the children in the camp, especially Begum. I prayed for hope for these children.

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Kumar Periasamy

Kumar Periasamy

Special to CBNNews.com

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