Rush Hour in Asuncion, Paraguay. Sitting in my car, I am waiting for a red l ight to change when from the corner of my eye I suddenly notice something charging at me. Startled I look closer - and it is a young man, waving madly, motioning me to stop at the curb. He doesn't speak, only garbled sounds come from his throat.
Immediately a memory comes flashing back. This is "Dumb David" - what a joy to see him again!
We got to know him when we were working with a local youth gang in downtown Asuncion. He slept on bank benches and scraped a living by begging. At that time, he must have been 11 or 12 years old and deaf and dumb. He was able to communicate with the other street kids only by gestures. He was at the bottom of the street hierarchy. The others made fun of him, treated him like dirt, and many times forgot him altogether. But they tolerated his presence and so he kept following them, as while he was on the streets alone, he had been frequently mistreated and abused.
We gave him and many other street children a safe place to sleep, the possibility of a shower, new clothes, a warm meal. As nobody knew his name, we called him David. He wasn't able to hear the sound of his new name, but he seemed to enjoy somebody taking an interest in him and envisioning a future for him.
One day, there was a terrible incident. Out of nowhere, security appeared. They promised the children to take them to a safe place and ferried them off to an unknown destination, and David was among them. Later some of the kids told us that they had been taken into a yard where they all had to undress and line up and shower with cold water, even though it was winter. David did not understand what was going on, and nobody had a chance of explaining anything to him. He was kicked, beaten and forcefully showered.
But that was only the beginning of their sufferings. Another street child later told us what happened next. "They took us to another house, and I hope it was going to get better - but things only got worse. We had to get up at 5 am each morning to sing the national anthem. Then we had to cut grass with machetes until evening. If someone grew tired or had blisters, we were whipped. The wardens in the house kept us like their personal slaves. We had to clean toilets, and if there was the slightest speck, we were beaten on our hands. We never dared to appeal to the director of the institution, as he was known to beat the boys until they couldn't even walk any more.
David is not able to tell us the rest of his story; but we agree to keep in touch. Meeting David stirred two conflicting emotions in my heart. On the one hand, I was grateful to see him again, to know that he is still alive; on the other hand I was deeply troubled because I can see those many other "Davids" whose silent cry for help still goes unheard. Once again I realize that we must never stop searching out these kids to help and provide for them!