The boy with the white hair


Mum was worried about me going. However, having had my trip of a lifetime cut short twice already through illness, I was determined to ignore what fate seemed to be trying to tell me. So, I insisted on packing my rucksack, complete with emergency whistle and portable loo roll, and returning to South America for a third time. I had arranged to spend a month volunteering in a poverty-stricken shanty town in Peru, a place where the poorest families are unable to keep the cold winter air out of their collapsing homes, which are often made from corrugated iron and cardboard, and children die in the winter months from pneumonia.

Equipped with our trusty hammers and an ancient truck we had navigated the shanty town’s steep hillside to where a family of six lived in tiny decrepit shack, in order to replace their home with a warm and secure wooden hut. As the local children, with their tanned skin and dark coloured hair, came to look excitedly and curiously at the white-skinned ‘gringos’, I spotted behind them a small child of about 6 years old, sitting on an old, rusty oil can, taking sheer delight from simply hitting his hands against the can like a drum. It wasn’t the holes in his clothes or the cheap plastic beads round his neck which made him stand out, it his shock of snow-white hair and pink eyes, set into skin paler than my own. There was a startling contrast between the little albino boy and his normally pigmented older brother, who appeared to dote on him proudly.

Facing all the struggles of living in poverty, such as the difficulties in obtaining the basic necessities we take for granted such as food and water, this little chap was also being forced to cover his vulnerable skin throughout the intense summer heat, and wear sunglasses even on misty winter days to protect his pale eyes from the sun’s dangerous rays. Yet despite the extra challenges the little boy on the home-made drum faced, they did not seem to get him down, and it was with a beautiful childish innocence and hope that he looked up and met my eyes, a look intense with pure simplicity that made me rue the comforts and luxuries that I take for granted; quite simply, a look I shall never forget.

F Wallis

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