Dust Of Life

By Christina Noble

Christina Noble was a street child in the city of Dublin, Ireland. Her father was alcoholic and she suffered unspeakably. But it is one of the mysteries of life that she has risen from the ashes of her childhood and given her life to helping street children in Vietnam. Vietnam, like the Philippines, has thousands of street children and homeless children. The editor of the Korean version of Misyon, Fr Malachy Smyth, a Columban missionary in Korea, has interviewed Christina and has allowed us to share that interview with you our readers of Misyon.

Why do I feel their pain

Here in Vietnam, the street children were once called the Dust of Life. Now it is against the law to refer to them in this way. There is a lot of work being done by the government in the children’s interest, especially the ones living in the streets. A more recent and growing worry is the problem in drug addiction. And it is not just a Vietnam problem; it is a global problem. It is wreaking havoc among the youth of the world.

I have spoken to hundreds of thousands of young people and I know their longings and their pain. I have met them over a broad spectrum of society and they all say the same thing, “We are scared. We are afraid and insecure. We don’t know how we are going to cope with life outside.”

Well, I have an identity with them even though I come from a different culture, different language, different everything. The one thing we have in common is the suffering I experienced in childhood in Ireland: the deprivation, the abuse and neglect, the isolation, rejection and pain. I always say there is no difference in the pain of an Irish child and a Vietnamese child. If you live on the streets and you are homeless and you are deprived of your parents and deprived of the community you live with, have no friends and are isolated, you are then what is called Boi Doi, a street child.

I myself was deprived of these things and I think what I feel for these children is the same pain I felt when I was a child. I can pick up their pain, their sense of inferiority as few others can.

At times they put on a false bravado, with insecurity underneath. But they are still children, that could never be denied. So you have to build up trust with them and that takes time. So it was my own history, my own childhood journey that helped me enter the children’s world.

Way out: Education

I think education is the way out of the black hole. A child needs to learn about his environment, his culture, then about his whole reason for living in this world. To do that he has to learn to read, learn history, learn interaction with others, learn social skills in order to get out of the hole and be productive in society and to be accepted.

We currently have 33 projects up and running here in Vietnam. We are just about to build two more schools now. We are also rebuilding the existing medical facility first opened in 1991. This is being revamped into a high technology center for the children. That means there will be more machinery there to help the children born with defects. It will accommodate 85 children altogether. So there will be hi-tech machines and hi-tech people to administer help to the little ones who are physically handicapped.

What matters most

Well I probably know today more than at any previous time how hard my life has been. I never felt pity for myself. I don’t think I’m the only one. I’m just one of countless of children around the world who suffered in that way. It’s not just the lack of food, it’s not the lack of having a posh big house, and it’s not the lack of having a scooter or a pair of shoes or any of those things. Even though they are important to a child, the most important thing is having a mother to take care of you, a father to say it’s ok, having a pillow to put your head on at night, to feel safe, secure and know there is protection around you.

I lived in a hole

I was deprived of these. It was like eternal isolation for me, loneliness, the absolute loss of brothers and sisters. I was living like a stray animal in every sense of the word, sort of building my own grave at nighttime, getting myself down and covering myself up somewhere along the street. And then thinking,“Will I get a nightmare tonight? Will it be very scary, will I survive it, and will the ghosts come and get me?” Well nobody knows more about that darkness than I do. I can show you the hole in Phoenix Park – the Rizal park of Dublin – where I used to sleep at night. It’s still there. And each morning I woke up freezing cold. I am suffering now because of the cold injuries to my legs then living in that hole.

When you are a child and lonely it is a different sort of thing than when you are abused and your body and your spirit robbed from you. There are no words for that. So when I am with the children I understand their world and I said whatever it takes to help them I will do. If you make a commitment to these children, if you hold their little hands and make a commitment you are going to have to do it. Otherwise you betray them. To give false hope to a child could be the worst possible thing. My father gave us false hope every day. Saying, “I’m never going to drink again, everything is going to be ok.” Of course it was never like that, he got a few shillings and he was drinking again. So I really understand every step of the way I am taking with these children. I knew it was going to be hard and I didn’t have a clue how I was going to do it. But I decided I was going to wake up every morning and take that day and make something happen. And the following day a bit more, and I will go on and on and on.

Me and my Friend upstairs

I have a great Friend upstairs. The relationship I have with Him is very special. He knows me. I am sure He gets very upset with me at times because I swear a lot. But that’s the way I am. I love our Lord deeply and my faith is very deep inside me. There is no doubt my faith helped me on my journey. But I won’t impose my faith on other people. I never impose my religion on anyone else but I never deny my God to anyone either. I never will. He has carried me such a long way, you will never know. I have been in darkness and I have crawled out when I could hardly take a step to walk. He is there all the time with me. I sincerely believe if it wasn’t for my Father in heaven, my Lord, I wouldn’t be alive today. Well, He has to keep me alive. I got these children to live for.