Friday, July 11, 2008

The Center of Europe, Part 11

Arvydas resembles the tall grass in which he stands. He sways, from foot to foot, like the shoots in the wind. At 12 years old, he's growing quickly now, and his arms and legs are as thin as ax handles.

We're standing near his family's home, which is not much more than a shack around which chickens and turkeys peck for seeds. Arvydas is one of seven children. His toothless mother, probably in her late 30s but easily looking 20 years older, tells us that he is a good boy, at the top of his class. He is shy and lowers his head as she says this, but he can't help but smile. He smiles all the time, sparks of sunlight on his new braces.

At school, kids made fun of him for his rotten teeth that had become so bad that it was difficult for him to eat. That's when Dijana Kanciene got involved. She knew people who would be willing to help him, to pay for his dental work, for his braces. That would be us, the Washington (Pa.) Rotary Club. We'd helped before, with books, clothing and sporting goods, and sending another needy child to college.

And so, here we stand, looking at Arvydas' braces, at where our money is going. We ask where his father is. His mother tells us that her husband works at the vodka factory, the concrete silos of which are visible across the field of tall grass. He spends all his salary on vodka. He was up drinking all the night before, and as we approached this day, he fled on his bicycle.

Embarrassed, tears in her eyes, she turns away. She tells Dijana that she is sick, that she has allergies and cannot afford the medicine that the doctor prescribes. Dijana tells her she will help. We wave goodbye to them, to Arvydas and his sisters.

Arvydas is young and bright. His family situation is not good, but he has had some help and attention. We do not know yet whether he will have the strength and the will to create a better life for himself and his own family, but we have hope.

Arvydas is Lithuania.


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