Here in the UK, there has been quite a bit of news about child refugees, as our Government has decided to reduce the number that they are allowing into the country. All of this made me think back to the time when a child refugee changed my views on compassion, especially in relation to children.
It was 2006, and I was working at a Christian retreat centre in the Yorkshire Dales. At that time I was suffering from severe depression which had yet to be diagnosed, a depression that would see me try and take my own life a few months later. We had hosted a number of events while I was there, but this one would be different for me. You see, the closest city to us had a high population of refugees, and we were to host a getaway for them all. I wasn’t actually on the team that weekend, but as always those not on the team had jobs to do around the house.
11 years on I cannot actually remember the catalyst to the actual event, but I do remember it was early evening, and everyone had eaten. By this time the team were running entertainments, and a number of the children were running around entertaining themselves.
As I say, I cannot remember exactly why, but I found myself in a deep depression and a state of deep sadness. I guess saying I can’t remember why I got depressed when I was medically depressed is like an alcoholic saying they can’t remember why they reached for their next drink. But there I was. I slumped myself in a corner and started crying. A number of my colleagues walked past, whether they didn’t notice of whether they just thought “Oh, there Tom goes again.” I’m not sure.
A few minutes went by, and then I noticed one of the children – around the age eight I would say – looking at me, at first I thought it was curiosity, but then he walked over and sat down opposite me. Not beside me mind, but opposite me on the floor, his feet touching mine. He sat as if a mirror image of myself, tilted his head as if to say “are you okay?” We were sat there for a couple of minutes, but then he got up and gave me one of the biggest hugs I have ever had – before or since. Then he whispered in my ear “Everything is going to be okay.” Then he stood up and returned to his friends.
As you could imagine, this boy’s actions stopped me in my tracks. Here was a kid who had to flee his own his own country for reasons only God knows, likely seen things unimaginable to us, yet he out of everybody who witnessed my – what could be described as – first world sorrows, was the one to come over and show compassion. Surely I should have been one of the ones showing compassion to him!
Understandably I have reflected on this incident many times over the years, and I do believe it is the bedrock of virtually everything that my life has been built on since.
Often as adults, when we think of children as emotional machines we think of the negative side to it – the screaming and the tantrums. – but we forget that often all they are going on is emotion, they have none of the intellectual and social baggage that we as adults have. Being so in tune with their emotions, they can more easily see the emotions in others – and this can be especially the case when those children have unfortunately seen hardship themselves. It is vital as adults that we acknowledge and encourage emotional intuitiveness in our children.
A few months ago, due to the complication with my disability, I had to wear a brace on my arm to stop a constant pain in my shoulder. My youngest goddaughter, who was only a little over two at the time saw this and got concerned. The moment I explained that it was because I was in pain, she called for the one person for whom for her is the reliever of pain – her mother.
A number of years ago while working as a classroom assistant a five-year-old came up to me and enquired about my disability. I explained to him that something went wrong before I was born, and because of that I can neither use my left arm or leg. Weeks later, and an eight-year-old asked me the same question. Before I could answer, the five-year-old strolled up in between the eight-year-old and myself. With his chest puffed out, he glared at the eight-year-old in the eye and said: “They don’t work because something went wrong before he was born, leave him alone.”
Indeed, when my eldest goddaughter asked the same thing, she answered “Don’t worry Tom, when I’m older I’ll fix you, I’m very good at fixing things I am. ”
These stories tell me two things, children are very good at compassion, and they can probably teach us, adults, a thing or two about it too. But yet we have the arrogence sometimes to think we know better than them.
Founder & CEO
Strength Restored is Tom’s baby. Born out of 8 years of being the target of bullies, Tom’s heart burns with a passion for seeing the lives of anyone touched by bullying turned around. Tom started working with children when he was only eleven himself, he then expanded into working with young people too, back in 2003. Tom has had the luck of being able to see bullying from all its angles, for not only was he the target of bullying, he also worked as a teaching assistant for a time, and so saw it from the teacher’s point of view too. All this experience has helped him construct Strength Restored, and truly he believes it could make a real impact.