For the children and their dreams for a better tomorrow
Once in a beautiful village far from the barrio, hidden in the marshes; where children play under the warm sun, soft sand, by the seawaters. When gentle waves splashed against stones, and mothers dutifully plant seaweeds, and children play swimming, diving with their laughter filling the warm village air.
This village in the marshes had houses with wooden legs soaked deep underwater, old and worn, built out of bamboo and rods. Barely holding through the monsoon storms, as they gently swayed against the blowing wind. The houses are old but they were strong enough to hold together happy families.
Each morning, the children would wake, just before the strike of dawn, while the sun peeks through the horizons, filling the skies with hues of colors.
It is a Saturday morning, and today, Amala and her brother Abdul, along with their friends would be going to the mangroves to help plant trees. These trees are important to them. Trees keep their homes safe from the high tides and storms.
As the day goes by, the afternoon growing warmer, and the little trees planted and buried deep underwater. Everyone shared snacks, sweet drinks, and water. They did not only fill their hungry stomachs but filled their happy hearts, as and the children felt grateful for having been rewarded for the work they had done.
Amala came home and handed to her mother the money she earned after a day’s work. It was enough for the food to be served for supper, to buy a few seedlings for their father and mother to plant more seaweed and some other little things they needed.
Once the seaweeds become ready to harvest, their mother would untie them in strings set them dry and, they would sell them off in the barrio market where rich merchants live.
On weekdays, Abdul would wake up, along with his father, as he prepared for his journey. His father would wake up early just before the sun would even peek, and he would paddle away on his little boat to fish.
Amala would wake up at dawn, prepare her bag, and change her clothes. Wrapping her school uniform in a plastic bag, she packed her things and is ready to go. She leaves just about the time when the sun was high. Along with her friends, they would climb down the old rickety ladder and jump into the water.
Laughing as each of them made a big splash, waist deep under, with their bags held above their heads. This is how their every day begins as they make their way to the nearest school barrio. This is life for the children of the marshes.
“I think we have to buy you some new slippers, Amala,” her brother Abdul said, as they watched her slippers slipped from her little toes and float above water. They were a size bigger for her, but she did not mind. Her teacher gave her these slippers.
“No. It’s okay. I can just carry them with my things,” Amala replied and reached for her floating slipper.
Abdul laughed and grabbed hold of her hand; grabbing her things and helping her retrieve her slippers.
“I’ll carry them for you. At this rate we’re going; we’ll be late for school. The water’s too deep for you to walk today. Hop on my back, and I will carry you,” Abdul said, as this has become their usual routine.
As the children crossed the water and came towards the rocky shores, Amala hopped off her brothers’ back gleefully, as they all took out their bags and un-wrapped their clothes. It was time for them to change into their dry clean uniforms that were slightly too big for their little frame.
Abdul laughed at the sight of his little sister.
“Amala, it looks like the uniform just ate you.” Abdul humored. Her uniform was too big for her little body to fit in. It certainly looks funny on his little sister.
“I’ll grow into it. You’ll see. We won’t even have to waste money to buy new ones because it’ll last until I am all grown up!” Amala replied.
They did not really buy the clothes; the uniforms were given to them by kind people who came to help them from time to time, feeding them and giving them supplies.
“Amala was right, like always,” Abdul thought as he watched his little sister struggling to walk with slippers too big for her feet, and clothes that made her shrink.
Amala had many friends in her school, friends who she played with and a teacher who loves her young pupils.
Amala had friends who brought many things to school, showing her what it was like to have toys and things, that made her always so curious. Her friends shared with her and taught her a whole new different world. Amala always became so excited by the new things she learned.
“One day I’m going to study in the city,” Amala thought. “And one day, I can buy mama all the things she’ll need.”
When Amala and Abdul walked home that day, she told her brother of her dreams of how she wanted to live in the city.
Amala was a bubbly little girl. As she picked the flowers alongside the road, she saw a large yellow flower and gasped in awe.
The flower vines were crawling on a small picket fence. There was a small blue house just behind it, and you could hear the cutting of wood and smell the fresh sawdust in the air. A boat maker lived here, but Amala did not seem to care. She wanted the flower, and so she picked it.
“You pick that flower every day; you know it’ll only wither away,” Abdul scolded her for picking another flower.
Yes, she did pick one each day. It was a pretty yellow bell flower, bigger than her hand. She would lay it by the window at night, and look at the stars that twinkle.
“One day, Abdul, I’ll plant a flower just like this. It’ll be big bright and yellow. We’ll live here in the barrio. We won’t cross the waters anymore,” Amala wished.
Crossing the tides, the children struggled to stay on their feet as the waters swayed, for the waves were growing strong that late afternoon. It was a monsoon. The cloud grew darker; the winds grew heavy, as it started drizzling, and the children hurried their way home. Amala cried out, as the wind blew her flower away.
“You’ll get another one tomorrow,” Abdul said, his grip on her legs getting tighter, as the tides grew stronger.
When they arrived home, they saw their mother weeping by the open window, gazing out into the dark clouds that covered the distant mountains.
“Mama, what’s wrong?” Abdul asked, kneeling beside her mother and holding her.
“Your father has not come back,” the mother said, holding her son’s face in her hands.
Abdul knew what that meant when a fisherman would not return during a storm. Their neighbor had not returned from the previous one; they had found his boat floating far from the village. It was empty. He was gone.
They held onto each other during the night, as the house shook and swayed, the heavy rainfall pitter-pattering from the tin roof, echoing with a noise that made Amala frightened, as thunder clapped and echoed at a distance.
When the morning came, the skies dark and grey, the sun barely awake and their father had still not returned. This broke their mothers’ heart, as the children stayed with her.
“We’ll find him, Mama,” Amala said, as she watched her mother gazed off again, towards the distant sea.
Amala frowned at her mother and turned to face her brother who lay from across the room, covered with warm blankets. He was sick with fever, coughing during the stormy night.
Amala then turned and packed her morning bag. She was running late, but it did not matter. She needed to go to school. Her brother needed medicine. She had to tell her teacher.
As Amala climbed down the small ladder, the water swayed with large waves. The tides were high after the storm.
She dove in, deep in the water, reaching above her head; she treaded her little legs, gasping for breath. As her bag was floating from her back, swaying with the tides, Amala struggled to keep from following the currents. She took off her bag and placed it on a rock. This was not helping; she couldn’t swim with it. Struggling with the tides that pushed her away, Amala dove under the water and swam away.
When Amala came ashore, drenched and shivering from the cold, her feet were bare, and her clothes were wet.
She ran towards the school, tears rushing down her face. It was raining again with the heavy rainfall pouring on her.
She rushed towards the small building and felt relieved. Here she could ask for help, and everything would be alright again.
But her teacher was not there, as her classmates gasped at the sight of her. Amala cried feeling lost and afraid. Her brother was sick, so she came alone. Her father had not returned, so her mother was mourning at home. There was nobody she could ask for help. She ran, not knowing where she would go with tears rushing down her face.
Flashing above are dark clouds, thunder rumbled and echoed, it made her heart leap. Amala looked around her, suddenly realizing how far she had gone. She saw the fence with the yellow bell vines, the flowers slowly falling from the harsh winds that came with the storm.
The roads were turning brown and muddy. Amala looked around her and realized that the house just behind the fence belonged to the boat-maker.
“Maybe he could help,” Amala thought, as she made her way across the fence, and walked towards the little blue house, hearing loud banging noises that muffled with the rumble of loud thunder.
The elder man was hunched over on his work table, hammering at the edges of a small wooden box.
“Excuse me, kind Sir,” Amala swallowed her courage and disturbed the working man. “Can you help me?”
The old man turned with a start and smiled at her. “If you are here to wait out the rain, you can sit on the bench over there,” the elderly man said, with his iron hammer still in his hands, pointed towards a small bench located at the far wall of his shop.
Amala shook her head realizing something. The old man was a boat-maker, and he built things; he built boats.
“Can you build a boat?” Amala eagerly asked.
The boat-maker laughed at the little girl and nodded. “Why of course. I can little one. Why do you ask?” the old man replied.
“Could you build a boat for me?” Amala requested as she looked up at the elderly man, with pleading eyes. If she had a boat, she could take her brother to the kind people who helped them not far from the boat-makers’ house. She could sail away and look for her father. If she could do all of that, her mother would stop crying, and everything would be as it should be.
“I’m afraid not little girl. I only build things that are paid for. If I were to build you a boat, I would need the money to buy some wood,” the boat-maker frowned at her. Amala’s eyes welled up in tears.
“Can I build one?” Amala asked desperately.
The boat-maker stared at the little girl, wondering if she meant building a little toy boat for herself.
“I’m sorry, little one. But without any wood, we cannot build your boat,” the boat-maker said. He further told her that he needed money to buy the materials for a good boat.
Amala frowned but thanked the man, said goodbye, and walked away.
It was raining hard; her clothes soaked, as she walked her way home.
Reaching the shores, watching the raging tides, she cried.
How will she be able to go home? The storm was getting stronger; the tides were too high for her to swim.
She turned to go back, stopping in her tracks. There was a fallen tree not too far on the side of the road. Could she use that to build her own boat?
She ran towards the fallen tree and pulled at its branches. Amala broke them into pieces one by one as the branches snapped and broke into half. But she was too small to break such a big tree; she could only break as tiny as a twig.
The old man had followed the girl, calling out for her when she had left. He was worried that she would become sick from the rain. Watching the young girl break pieces of what little wood she could, the boat-maker frowned; he turned his gaze at the high raging tides. He suddenly remembered who the girl was; she was one of the many children who lived in the marshes. She had to cross the waters every day. He had not realized what she was asking for.
The girl had wanted to go home. The old man turned back home leaving Amala to break what pieces of wood she could.
Her little hands were turning red, but she did not care. She needed to go home. She needed to build a boat.
Stepping on a large branch, she pushed her foot down, hoping to break it in half. Amala gasped, startled when a shiny saw had appeared beside her. She turned to see the boat-maker there, cutting the branch, one after the other. She stood there, saying nothing, simply watching the old man work. He had brought an ax with him as well to chop down all the pieces they needed for her boat.
When he was done and the rain had calmed to a steady drizzle, they picked up the wood and headed back towards the little blue house.
Walking passed by the little fence, Amala bent down and picked up a fallen yellow flower floating in a puddle. That night the kind old man welcomed her inside his home and gave her warm clothes, a hot cup of milk, and watched her as she lay on the bench asleep. He spent the night, listening to the whistles of the wind, using what little bit of supply he had left building a boat for a little girl who lost all hope. When morning came, with bird songs and cloudy skies, Amala opened her little eyes, seeing a blur of yellow before her sight.
Rubbing the sleep away, she sat up as the pillows and blankets were falling to the floor. There, before her very own eyes, lay a boat, bright big and yellow, like her favorite flower.
That day, Amala wrapped her arms around the kind old man.
“Thank you. You saved my life. I’ll never forget you,” Amala said, before rowing away towards home, with her little yellow boat of hope.
As the days and years came and went, as many seasons passed, and many things had happened since then, Amala, who was once a little girl, had grown up and grown older, helping the young children from her old village, teaching them new things.
She could still remember the day she came home with her little yellow boat. It was the day the horizons had cleared; the sun shone, and the tides of the sea calmed with gentle waves.
A new dawn has come for them, as each of her friends came to sail with her to school each morning. The yellow boat gave them more hope to smile and dream. They no longer had to swim their way to school each day; they no longer came in soaking wet and late for all their classes. This changed them. She grew hopeful of their dreams; their future did not seem to be so far. The boat brought them to school, and if they finished their studies, with goals and dreams in their hearts, they could do anything, and be anything they wanted to be. This made Amala happy.
The boat-maker, that day, grew to realize a better purpose in his old age. He told the people from the barrio, his neighbors, his friends, and the good doctor he visited each weekend of his story, a tale that was unheard by many, of a little girl coming to him, asking for a boat to go back home during a storm and how each day he saw children passing by his little house, soaking wet from swimming, and making their merry way to school.
Little did the old boat-maker know that his story would reach the ears of a man with a big heart for children and their dreams.
The marshes that were once filled with children swimming were now filled with so many yellow boats that sailed for them. As the sunset that afternoon and the yellow boat drifted towards the village, Amala paddled away. At a distance, she saw home, with her mother who had aged through the years waving at her by the bridge wrapped in her fathers’ arms. Her brother’s boat docked at the side and tied to a wooden pole. He was fixing his fishing nets, making her smile.
Amala was finally home.
This story is dedicated to all the children of the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation.
Help us get more children like Amala to go to school and follow their dreams.