Before he could ask the street children in Pakistan about their "dreams," World Vision worker Brian Miller had to explain the concept.
"They don't think in terms of their future," he said, of the children who survive by their wits in a notoriously dangerous urban neighbourhood. "Their lives are only today. There's nothing else."
The children put in long, back-breaking days as garbage or rag pickers. The area is crawling with drug smugglers. Some are looking to trick even the youngest children into slavery, selling them for labour or sex.
Children labour through busy nights as dishwashers at a restaurant at the Pir Wadhai bus terminal, Pakistan's largest transit hub. Courtesy: Mary Kate MacIsaac
I read Miller's words three years ago, and am still rocked whenever I think of them. As a World Vision worker myself, I've met children in situations Canadian parents couldn't bear to imagine for their own children. For most of these kids, their reality is more than enough to deal with. They have no mental space to even imagine another one.
The idea of children who can't dream conflicts with everything we're raised with here in North America. Do you remember the Disney character Jiminy Cricket singing to his wooden friend Pinocchio, who wanted to become a real boy?
"When your heart is in your dream -- no request is too extreme," Jiminy crooned to Pinocchio.
In Canada, dreams can be the key to pretty much any future a child might chose. But what do we make of Jiminy's claim, in a world where, for many children, every request is too extreme?
Right now, children around the world are working as slaves. Girls as young as eight are being prepared for their wedding ceremonies. Sons and daughters are nursing their own parents as they slowly die of AIDS.
I think the key is to remember that, despite all the pain and terror, children were made to dream. The tendency is in every fibre of their being. It's something we at World Vision see in our work every day. Dreams can germinate if someone cares enough to send just a little bit of the message that Jiminy gave to Pinocchio.
This past spring, I watched a video of a little girl named Aarti, whom a colleague had met on a trip to the slums of India. Aarti had been working on the streets, like those children in Pakistan who didn't know how to dream. Her playground was a heap of stinking garbage -- there was nowhere else.
But after a few years of learning through a World Vision centre, Aarti now wears her dream in the smile on her face. She wants to be a teacher. She wants to give children what she never had as a younger child. This vision lifts Aarti from her sleeping mat each morning, prompts her to wash, get dressed and head off to spend the day studying.
So whenever I think of Brian Miller, now, trying to open doors for Pakistani street children through a World Vision drop-in learning centre, I also think of Aarti. Sometimes I flip back to the video, to remind myself of what's possible once dreams are allowed to grow.
And then I dream my own dream: that perhaps one day, Jiminy Cricket's message will apply to all of the world's children.
If you have a dream to share, upload it now to the Dream Share Wall. You can also tweet your dream using the #DreamShare hashtag or write your own blog post on any dream topic of your choice! Dream Share is an initiative of World Vision, a global Christian relief, development and advocacy organization that believes every child should have the ability to dream -- and dream big!