How Huang Stole My Heart

What’s wrong with this picture?

Nothing, except that this little guy is probably one of only a handful of kids in Cambodia (and elsewhere in Asia) wearing a helmet on a motorbike.


Most are riding around like this:








… or like this:








Which is why I met a little boy named Huang today. This is Huang and he’s six years old. With his studious manner, his spark, and his smile, he reminds me of Julsi (one of my nephews).

I met Huang in Lida’s class today. He practically jumped out of his seat when Lida asked if he knew the English alphabet, proudly walking up to the board, carefully writing out each letter with a marker, erasing each mistake as he went along.

With a booming voice, and despite the S-shaped scrape etched into his right cheek, Huang sung out English phrases over and over again, never tiring of the repetitiveness of the exercise, and always smilingly attentive to Lida’s corrections.

Huang reveled in writing out the alphabet and phrases on a sheet of paper; neatness was not enough, so he asked for a ruler. Then, while coloring in a picture of a crocodile (and ignoring his sore-looking and still blood-encrusted elbow), Huang asked Lida to bring him a book of animals from which he tried to imitate a style of illustration. 

Huang has spent the past 2 days at Emergency getting treated for skin burns and other injuries. His four year-old sister was treated for a serious head injury. In fact, Huang’s parents were also hospitalized on Saturday night after a motorbike accident involving the whole family. Huang’s father was discharged yesterday; tomorrow, the rest of the family will be released and return home.

On some level I was outraged. And baffled, at how a country legislates the mandatory wearing of helmets only for motorbike drivers – but not for passengers, not for babies and children. But today, for a few hours, I saw only a little boy that, despite his limp, and his still-bloody scrapes and healing burns, just wanted to be a kid; he’d put the accident behind him and merely wanted to read and write, learn and have fun.

How can a boy like that not steal your heart?

Mother and baby with broken arm


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