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A certain sadness

This morning, I visited an overcrowded camp in a school compound. The military does not usually allow any visitor to carry their mobile phones, but today they allowed us to take them. “Please do not give your phones to anyone to make calls” they requested. We obliged.

As soon as I got off the van, a police officer approached me. “Miss, could you please help us put up some more shelters? These people are suffering. Even if you give us an old tarpaulin sheet, it’s ok. I will return them when the people are moved to the relief village. My duty is only to provide them with security, but I am a human being and I feel so sad to see these people like this”, the policeman confessed.

He was right. The place was so overcrowded that the space we had created for the children to play in was almost about to be occupied by people! Shangar the child protection officer was working to resolve the problem.

Then we were surrounded by a mob of mothers who claimed that their children had either been separated from them or gone missing. They showed me photographs of their children and pleaded with me to find them. One orphaned child, who was three-years-old, was last seen with a neighbour, according to the grandmother. She was desperate. I spent time trying to console her.

Huddled together in one corner were three eighteen-year-old girls who had recently married due to their fear of being forcibly recruited. In one hour, I collected more tears than I have shed in my entire life. There was a certain sadness that pierced my heart as I kept thinking: what if she was my child?

The one place that greeted me with smiles was a welfare centre which I had visited about a month ago. I’d met a girl who had been separated from her parents. The parents had been found and they were now all reunited. The girl, who did not speak to me on my first visit, wore a beautiful smile. I spoke to the parents. At the end of the chat, the girl’s mother held my face and kissed me on both cheeks. “Ma, I have not done anything for you” I said, surprised by her gesture. “You care about my child. You were concerned and you followed up. It means a lot,” she said affectionately. Once again that certain sadness enveloped my whole being: what if she was my child?

We visited many children’s safe play areas. While we were there, it started to rain. Children were playing. All of a sudden there was loud thunder and all the children dived onto the floor. “Why did you do that?” I asked. “Whenever there was shelling we were taught to go down on the floor,” replied Jenani who is eight-years-old. “Did you have to run into trenches when you were in school?” I asked. She smiled sweetly at my ignorance; “We studied IN the bunkers!”

I met two more children who have been separated from parents. They were in no mood to talk to me or anyone else. I just let them be. Telling them about the family that has recently been reunited, I tried to give them hope. But I will never forget that certain sadness that I read in their eyes.

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