Monday, October 01, 2007


by Pauline Jasudason

Suloshini, 14, declared to me that she is homosexual. Shocked, I asked, "Why?" little suspecting the stark tale she was about to tell.

Suloshini is the youngest in a family of four. She lives in a squatter settlement about 5 minutes' drive from the swanky Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel. Her mother is paralysed from waist down and her father died when she was three. One older brother ran away from home a long time ago and yet another is in jail, awaiting death-by-hanging for drug possession. Her eldest brother, who supports the family, physically abuses mother and sister often to vent his frustrations.

Sometimes they have no food to eat and that's when her brother will come home angry and bitter for failing to provide. Suloshini tries to stay away from home but when she does get back, her brother would be waiting...

"Whom did you spread your legs for today?" he would demand, and then proceed to beat her.

Streetwise and tough – on the outside, at least – Suloshini says in a matter-of-fact manner: "We don't need men! My girlfriends and I, we will love each other."

Hope amidst tragedy

I met her at a camp where we were teaching computer skills and reaching out to kids from welfare homes and orphanages. Some neighbours had enrolled Suloshini into such a home to escape her brother's oppression, but she felt captive and shackled by the rules of the home.

I told her to take the new environment in her stride and affirmed the strength I perceived in her. I told her to stay in school. I told her getting an education could give her a handle on life. She confessed shyly, "I've always wanted be a doctor. I want to heal my mother." I was amazed at the inextinguishable hope still flickering in the harsh winds of poverty. I told myself: stay in touch with this girl, and if nothing else, offer her friendship and a listening ear.

I cringe at Suloshini's impoverished state of existence. I cannot (even now) imagine not having all those things I take for granted: a safe place to call home, food on the table at mealtimes, and the assurance that I am loved.

Identifying with humanity

At dinner with some church youths last night, I ordered chicken curry.

"You're not fasting?" one of the teenagers asked in disbelief. They had decided to go vegan for the 40-day Lenten season. Everywhere in church there are signs that encourage reflection and sacrifice – the weekly "Way of the Cross" (meditations on the journey of Christ between his condemnation by Pilate up to his death), the palm leaves in place of flower boquets, and an increase in people attending daily services.

Simultaneously, the church's seasonal bible study materials in the first week of Lent guided us to Isaiah 58, which says, among other things: "No, the kind of fasting I want calls you to free those who are wrongly imprisoned and to stop oppressing those who work for you. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Feed the hungry and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as day." (Isaiah 58:3-4 & 10, New Living Translation)

"Fasting enables comfortable people to share the lot of the hungry poor, and from this hunger to look to God as the source of life and nourishment," the New Jerome Bible commentary says of this passage. It adds, "To fast and yet neglect the poor perverts religion."

People are alienated because we alienate them - both by the social structure and by looking the other way. People in need mirror how we are also poor in spirit and in need for God and one another.

An opportunity lost

The computer camp ended. November school holidays began and Suloshini was sent back to her family for the break. She ran away, and never returned to the welfare home when the new school year started. When I went around to the home in January, I was too late – she was nowhere to be found.

I have no idea where she is, I don't know if she is still in school, I don't know if she's gone back to her family.

"She will not be found if she does not want to be. She's a street-savvy kid and she knows her way around," the director of the welfare home said.

I kick myself for failing to tell Suloshini in clearer terms that I am a friend. Even with fasting or giving up small luxuries, I don't know if I can ever 'share her lot', or ever understand the grim realities of her life. Lord, help me.

Questions for reflection

Abraham Maslow, in his famous "hierarchy of needs" contends that there are five progressive layers of needs: the physiological, the needs for safety and security, the needs for love and belonging, the needs for esteem, and the need to actualise the self, in that order.

1. Who are those in need around you – at your workplace and local community? Think of individuals or homes that you can visit or talk to. Identify with them and show your interest in their lives.

2. What resources can I free up (time, money) to share with those who have less?

3. How can I respond to God's call in Isaiah to be "a light that shines out in the darkness"?

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