Respecting Difference, Promoting Understanding

I was feeling a littlee nostalgic lately, so I revisited my old blog and found something interesting to share. I hardly ever remember writing it, but I remembered it was for a Royal Commonwealth Essay. I think I got a Highly Commended certificate for this. Can’t be too sure about it as well. Here’s for sharing. Pictures all credited to ezra sang.   🙂

Note: Pictures are not related to the story. LOL.

Enjoy.

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My seven-year-old daughter came home with tears glistened in her tiny eyes. I held her close, holding my tears, as I heard her saying in between painful sobs, “Mother, they said I’m different.” The afternoon clouded over, and a light rain began to fall, a patter of droplets on the roof like the feet of fairies dancing. The world turned grey as if God was crying too, but He did not know whom for.

Growing up in a Chinese community, she never knew she was different from the rest – I told her she was special. And she was. Unlike me, her long black hair was always plaited, her eyes were dark brown and her skin tanned. You see, Vashni was adopted. Years ago, my husband, Ed and I had tried several times to conceive a child but failed. I was so devastated when I learnt that my ovary duct was blocked and could not bear my own babies. I always planned about having a family of six, where I would proudly introduce them to my friends and colleagues. The boys would have the room painted blue while the girls – pink! I used to imagine how they would look like, those angels of my life. Both of us loved children, so we finally gave in to an alternative method – adoption.

“What happened, sweetheart?” I asked. It was her first day at school.

As if the words had hurt her, she burst into tears and hugged me tight. Her soft hands clutched my neck as she buried her face into my brown hair. After what seems like eternity, she loosened her clutch, and my heart ached as I looked at the hurt and despair that filled her innocent eyes.

Slowly, she related the whole incident as a tear rolled slowly down her chubby pink cheek. She was called names and laughed as the only Indian girl in her school. She was probably fortunate, considering what horrible things those boys could do.

“Why am I different, mummy? Did I do anything wrong?” I could feel a lump in my throat but I swallowed it back. Forcing a smile, I assured her nothing was wrong although deep inside my heart, I knew this would not be easy on her. Especially not for a seven-year-old girl whose world was nothing but smiles and laughter. Of course, there were also times she cried – when she skinned her knees, cut herself or when her favourite teddy bear lost its eye. That was all. She knew nothing more. She was just an innocent girl, who does not recognise the meaning of racism, and the fearsome as well as the cruelty of this world.

I cuddled her in my arms as I reminisced some of my earliest childhood recollections. There was an Indian girl in our school called Devi known as “The Devil” Don’t get me wrong, she was not the evil one who back-stab or criticize others. It was on one fateful morning when a teacher mispronounced her name as “devil”. The difference of a letter in a word had made a huge impact on her life. And just like Vashni, she was the odd one out.  Nobody cared about her.

As my precious one fell deep into sleep, I knew that I had to do something. Something that could actually make people understand that each and every one of us is different in a way and that difference should not be scoffed at, but respected by all. But how could I, a tiny figure in the world, do anything to change their perspective?

The following day, with a heavy heart, Ed and I whispered some words of encouragement and later watched our tear-stained daughter board the bright yellow bus to school. It seemed so unfair that God had treated her so unkindly, just because she was different. A sense of guilt overpowered me. I had predicted that things would not be easy for her, but I never expected it to be so ugly.

I had always wanted the best for Vashni from the moment I held her when she was just a toddler. When my husband and I went to Sunshine Adoption Centre, I could not take my eyes off the high-spirited, bubbly toddler, and without second thoughts, we chose her out of all the twenty children there. A lovely lady had us sign all the papers, which we promptly did. It was as if the Lord had arranged for me to take her home. But now, it seemed like I had failed her. Almost in despair, I breathed, Lord, help me. I don’t know what to do…

Have a little faith. Do something. I sensed the Lord whisper in my heart.

There are moments in my life when I do not doubt my heart. And this was one of them. So, I decided to do something. That morning, I called up a local neighbourhood high school and spoke to the principal, sharing my desire to promote love, care and understanding to the students. He was thrilled and invited me to come down during lunch. I agreed.

At noon, many thoughts bombarded my mind as I drove to school: Would they listen to me? Do the students want to listen to an outsider?

Finally, I made it to the classroom. Room 128, where I was to share some insight with the student. I took a deep breath and opened the door. There, I found thirty students talking excitedly, while alienating a Malay boy who sat at the corner, watching the rest with his sorrowful and envious eyes. His name was Ali. There was a hint of sorrow in his deep orbs, unnoticeable to the untrained eye. As I walked in, everything stopped and they quickly scrambled back into their seats. “Hello class. I’m Jill.”

Goooood morning teacher” Whew~! A moment of relief came over me. They accepted me. During that one-hour session, we had fun talking about goal setting, life, different people we came across in life and more. Azhar listened attentively but never said anything. When I asked for a volunteer to share his or her future career to the class, surprisingly, Azhar was the fastest to raise his hand up and said, “I’m going to be a teacher someday.”

Everyone laughed as they turned to the back of the room. “Oh, puh-lease! You, a teacher? Be real. You can’t even spell well. You ain’t gonna be anybody.”

“How could you say that?” I whispered in a hoarse voice to the real tough-looking guy who had laughed the hardest among all.

He laughed again. “He’s no use. He’s just so different.”

“Yes, he is. We all are. I’m different, you’re different. Azhar’s different too but the difference is what makes us special…” We spent the rest of the time debating about that. Just then, the bell rang signaling time for the next class.

I packed up my materials and started making my way to the parking lot. As I approached my car, someone called out to me. I turned and to my astonishment, it was Azhar. My adrenaline was flowing strong as I watched him pacing quickly towards me.

“Urm… excuse me teacher, do you remember what you said?”

“Yeah,  Azhar. I do. I do.”

“I just want to say thank you for defending me in there. Nobody has ever in my life stood up for me before. I’m a Malay. I’m different. You’re the first person who show me respect and understands me. Thank you so much. You don’t know how much your words mean to me. ….” As Azhar walked away, tears of joy swelled up in my eyes and started trickling down my face. I had been touched for life.

Maybe a miniature figure like me didn’t have the ability to generate massive influence and change like the words of a politician, but every single, little act we did, such as respecting the difference among people, or showing love to them, would affect the others, and thus spreading it. It is about time for us to bring our racism to an end, and embrace our differences and celebrate them.

Later on the day, Vashni came home, smiling. I did not ask why, but deep down in my heart, I know that she would fit into her school pretty well soon, and everything would turn out just fine.

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