In Thailand, I met a man named Chiang. When I first saw him, I was walking to the building where the vocational aspects of our trip were held. He was less crawling on the ground and more dragging himself across the ground, scraping his knees and toes. He carried a toy truck in his hand. I could tell immediately that he had physical and mental disabilities. When I saw him, I cringed. Chills shot throughout my body, and I looked away. I pondered for a second, criticized myself for looking at him that way, and then turned to him again.
“Sawadee-cap,” (Hello in Thai) I said.
He didn’t respond or look at me. Later I found out he was an outcast in the village because of his disabilities and didn’t like to talk to people because of the fear of being treated poorly.
As the trip went on, the time came for closing ceremonies and my Team Leader, Wendy, told me that Chiang wasn’t coming. We wanted him to come experience the ceremonies with our team and the villagers. One of the friends on my team knew where Chiang lived so we ran to his house. We went to his room (it was more like a dark cave) and saw him come slowly out of the darkness. He had a confused look when he came out and we picked him up and gave him some comforting words.
“We are taking you to your friend Wendy. We are taking you to Wendy.”
He smiled, and we continued to repeat the name Wendy. My friend gave him a toy car to comfort him. As I carried him, I began to realize what he looked like. I began to see how knobby and scraped his knees and toes were. I saw that his hair was in patches and that he had trouble grabbing and handling objects. His teeth were rotting and he made awkward noises every once in awhile. I could tell he tried to speak but was mentally impaired. He was so skinny that the small pants that were on him continually slid off after many attempts to tighten them. As we carried him, he smiled the whole time.
The rest of the way I pondered on the kind of life he had to live. What if I had physical and mental disabilities? What if I couldn’t use my body to even walk? What if I couldn’t express my thoughts to others? My thoughts continued to spiral as I thought about the people in Thailand as a whole. What would it be like to grow up in a developing country? Then I thought about my home in America. I felt so blessed to be able to grow up in a country where I have many freedoms and many privileges that these people do not have. My thoughts continued. How is it that a man like Chiang could be so happy in a situation that seems so terrible? How could it be that some people in America are so unhappy when they have everything?
During closing ceremonies I observed Chiang in awe. He smiled through the whole of the ceremonies. As we sat next to each other I noticed the holes in his pants and his bare feet. His legs were skinny and his knees and toes were calloused and bumpy. I then looked at my healthy knees and my healthy feet. I looked at my pants free of holes. I took off my pants and socks and gave them to him. I knew that soon the pants would wear out, and the socks would be ruined, but it was all I could think of to do for him.
As we sat next to each other his uncle kept tapping me and then him and pointing to the sky. I didn’t understand. Later, he did it again but with our translator near.
“He says that Chiang wants to go with you,” the translator said.
His uncle kept talking and soon I could see the tears well up in his eyes.
“He says that he wants to thank you. Nobody has ever been so kind to him,” our translator said.
Nobody has ever been so kind to him.
I felt like I had done nothing. I gave him a pair of pants and some socks. I gave Chiang something small, and Chiang gave me a new perspective.
Today I live my life trying to follow the example of Chiang. I try to remember Chiang’s smile and his example of happiness through hardships. He has also helped me to realize that there are so many, like Chiang, that are in need of help. There are many in developing countries that need help, but there are also many that are close to me that suffer tremendously. The thankfulness that Chiang and his uncle showed me helps me to know that I can make a difference as I serve.
I continue to serve in my community, and while I don’t always see the good I am doing, I know that my service is changing lives.