A few days after going to the Store House Foundation to meet the girls, Save the Children took me along to another place they funded – The Santa Famillie open center in Kinshasa, where children can come for food, medical care, get a bed for the night, and play safely.
While the children ate, the staff showed me round. Thee were classrooms, a medical room, and various dorms for different age children. I noticed how many beds there were for boys, and how few there were for girls. When I asked them about this, they replied that so fewer girls came for a bed each night. How come? Well, you can use your imagination to answer that. As you can see, some of the children were very small, although it was mainly the older girls who failed to turn up. I don’t think they always had much choice in the matter – another reason why the work funded by Save the Children in looking after these children and reuniting them with their families is so important.
After taking a look round, I met up with some of the children and did a story swap; I told them the stories of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood, and they told me theirs. I had an absolute torrent of stories pouring down past me, and I had to scribble and scribble and scribble to get them all down. My poor translator was as exhausted as I was by the end of it – everyone had a story to tell.
I think I’ll be spending the next few weeks re-telling you this mine of stories. The first one is called, Running Faster than the Wind, told to me by Jonathon, one of the street children I spoke to that day.
Running Faster than the Wind
A man and a woman lived together; and soon enough, the woman became pregnant. But before the baby was born, the man decided that he didn’t want to stay.
“I’m going,” he said to the woman. “And there’s nothing you can say is going to change that. After I am gone, if you give birth to a son, I want you to call him by a special name – Running Faster than the Wind. That way, I can be sure he will remember me.
The woman begged him to stay, but his mind was made up. So he left, and in due course a baby boy came along. Although she had thought of a great many better names to call her child since then, the mother decided to do as the man had asked, and call her child Running Faster than the Wind, because it was the one and only thing the child would ever have from his father, as long as he lived.
The boy grew up, and there was nothing unusual about him except his name. His friends at school thought the name was hilarious and spent a lot of time teasing him about it. Many times he wished he was called something really ordinary, but he wasn’t; and that was all there was to it. He just had to live with it. Secretly, he hoped that there was some other, special reason for his father wanting him to be called that – but the years went by and nothing happened, and it looked as if it was just wishful thinking
One day, Running Faster than the Wind was walking in a wood and he came across a hole in the ground. He walked around that hole and had a look at it. It was empty, and yet a curious rushing, whistling noise was coming from it. He got closer and looked in – and discovered that this wasn’t just any hole. Because in that hole there lived the wind. Even at home the wind couldn’t keep still, and it was rushing round and round inside, and it was that making those curious sounds.
“So this is where all the wind lives!” thought the boy. It seemed to him that it could be no coincidence that he of all people, with his special name, had found that secret hole. If the wind was in that hole, he thought, maybe he ought to be in it as well.
So he climbed in.
The wind wasn’t having that. It came roaring straight at him. It buffeted and punched him and whirled him round like a leaf in that hole, and then – WHOOSH! it came rushing out and up, up, up, up higher and higher into the air, carrying that poor boy with it. It got so high, that the trees underneath him looked like moss growing on the ground. Then down, down down down down, until he crashed to the earth – right through the roof of his father’s house,knocking it to pieces.
His father came rushing out – “What have you done? Look – my house – it’s ruined!”
Poor Running Faster than the Wind crawled out, bruised and battered and exhausted. He could hardly walk, let alone run faster than the wind.
“Oh, so it’s you, Running Faster than the Wind,” said his father sternly. “What do you think you’re doing, wrecking my house?”
“Wrecking your house? It nearly wrecked by whole body,” he said. “It serves you right for giving me such a stupid name.”
Some time after this, Running Faster than the Wind met some old school friends of his – the same ones who always used to tease him and make his life a misery at school. Off they went, same as normal, teasing him away about his ridiculous name. Well, he stood up to them, and a fight broke out. Of course there was no way he could win – there were just too many of them, and he got a sound beating. Afterwards, though, the friends suggested that they put their quarrels behind them and go off together on a trip across the Congo river from Kanshasa, to Brazzaville. Running Faster than the Wind agreed, so they all caught the ferry and went across.
When they arrived there, they went straight to the beach. Now, it was a hot day and everyone was thirsty. The friends had spent all their money getting across, so theyall banded together again, and went up to running Faster than the wind, and asked him to give them £100 to by some water.
“£100 for water? You must be joking,” he said. But they wanted it. They were sure he had it, and they insisted he give it to them.
Running Faster than the Wind could see another beating coming along.
“Very well,” he said. “I can get it for you, but you must do what I tell you. I want you to grab hold of my clothes.”
“Is that all? Well, we’ll happily do that,” they said. “Then you won’t be able to get away.” They all grabbed hold tight of him. “Now,” they said … “Give us the money!”
“As tight as you can?” shouted the boy.
“Too tight for you to get away1′ they sneered.
“Good. Wind!” shouted the boy. “I’m coming back in your house!”
When the wind heard him say that, it came rushing at him in a rage and blew him up in the air again, and of course all his fiends holding tight onto his clothes got blown up as well. Up, up, up, up, higher and higher, until the sea looked like a blue field, and the clouds were scudding along underneath them and the even the biggest ships looked like little bits of stick floating far below.
“This is the deal,” said Running Faster than the Wind. “You wanted water – there it is! I’m going to let you go.”
The friends were terrified. “No, please, don’t do that, don’t let us go … please, no!” they begged. But Running faster than the Wind did it anyway. He shucked off his clothes and down they fell .. down, down, down, down until, with a mighty splash, they hit the water and carried on all the way down through that, until they hit the bottom of the sea.
No one ever saw them again.
As for Running Faster than the Wind, the wind carried him away right around the world until it got tired of the game, and dropped him down – bang! – right where it had found him on the beach in Brazzaville.
And I don’t think anyone ever tried to bully him again.
And that’s the end of the story. I hope you liked it. I’ll transcribe some more stories from the Sante Famille open center over the summer – there’s plenty more to come. Meanwhile, the children have done their part and told you a story. If you’ve read this far – fair’s fair – you can do something for them. Help these lovely kids – I met them and I promise you they were great – by making a small donation to help Save the Children keep places like this open.
These children are innocent of any wrong, have been thrown out of their homes, often by their own families and they need help. Save the Children funds organisation like this, to help street children and hopefully, to get them back with their own people so that they can resume a normal childhood. A little bit goes a long way in Kinshasa – I promise you, you will be making a difference. And I think you’ll agree that a few pounds is small price to pay for the chance to read these marvelous and unusual stories.