Only a child, but already a man

More than 10,000 Cambodians cross the border into Thailand every day to earn a living. Among the throng of workers and peddlers are children like Horm, who gathers recyclable trash and sells his gleanings at Rong Kluea market.

He is only 10, but he already works like a man. Between his rounds, he drops by a World Vision learning center to play. It is at this center where he experiences just a few moments of being a child.

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He was lining up rectangular wooden blocks on the floor. I wondered what he was building. Not even half listening to what the people around me were saying, I kept an eye on him, struggling to keep my focus. When he put the toy horses and the cow inside his creation, I realized he was building stables.

I was in a middle of interviewing World Vision staff members in a learning center at the Cambodian border with Thailand when this sun-tanned boy arrived. When he walked courteously past us, I could almost smell the sun from his skin. The staff noticed him, but did not react to him as he entered. When he re-emerged a few minutes later, his face and legs were damp.

I was getting really curious about who this boy was and what he was doing at the center. Was he the son of one of the staff members? He seemed so familiar with the place and felt so at home.

My eyes followed him. He walked straight over to a hamper of assorted toys, leaving wet footprints as he carried them across the floor. He emptied the toys noiselessly onto the floor, selected the items he wanted, and began placing one block beside another.

Horm, a 10-year-old boy, plays with toys at the center, building a stable with the toy horses and the blocks. These few moments of imagination are the only time for Horm to play. (Photo: Janice Evidente/World Vision)

With a quick apology, I interrupted the interview and asked who this little engineer was. I learned that he was not a son of any of the staff, but a regular walk-in at the center. He drops by almost daily to drink water and to freshen up.

His name is Horm, just 10 years old. He crosses the border on foot from Cambodia with some 10,000 other fellow citizens to work in Thailand every day. He goes around the market and nearby houses with his large, black garbage bag to gather recyclable trash to sell.

Questions raced through my mind, each one on the heels of the last: It’s Wednesday; isn't he supposed to be in school? Did he come with his parents? Are his parents working, too? Did he eat breakfast before going on his usual rounds? Isn't he tired?

Then the voices around me grew faint.

While I had my eyes fixed on Horm, my mind traveled miles back home to where my son was. My well-provided Dave goes to a private school. He hates waking up early, hates going to school even more. When he gets up, his breakfast is waiting for him, yet he grumbles that his stomach isn’t ready for food when the sun is just rising.

I have to employ a variety of strategies to urge him to get ready for school. Even once he’s into the bathroom, I continue to bark from outside the door and only stop when I hear water splashing. Otherwise, he'll doze off again. He's 13, still a young boy. Not yet a man.

And here's a younger boy who is already working like a man. He's not in school and may not have even had breakfast now at 10 a.m. He only freshens up from a center that offers him free water and a bathroom to use.

The learning center receives boys and girls who want to read books, play, freshen up, and be just what they really are -- kids.

World Vision staff members also visit the nearby market to tell children stories and engage them in fun activities while their parents are at work.

I stared more intently at the already-engrossed Horm, now captivated with his dream ranch. How many stables does he have in his young mind? Is he dreaming of becoming a cowboy? Does he even think about school?

I started taking pictures of him, and he didn't mind. He continued to play in his world of make-believe with lots of animals in his care. Then, after a few minutes, he gathered all the toys and put them back into the hamper.

He nodded his head at us as a gesture of both respect and gratitude.

Time is up. Being a child is over.

He walked back to where he had laid his prized pickings. It was time to step into the world of harsh realities for Horm -- of being a man at the age of 10.

Please consider joining us as we work to help preserve the childhood of children like Horm.

Sponsor a child in Thailand or Cambodia today. Your commitment will help create an important safety net for a child in need -- providing the opportunity to go to school, preventing forced labor and exploitation, and establishing access to other essentials like clean water, nutritious food, safe shelter, and medical care.

You can also make a one-time donation to our Children in Crisis Fund. This fund helps provide care for children affected by conflict, exploitation, and life on the streets through interventions like medical care, nutritious food, trauma counseling, education, and more.

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