This morning, I sat down at the computer for a Skype date with my friend, Kristal, who is working in South Africa. Apparently, Skype is down and technology in all its beauty has failed to connect us. One of the things that the Hands at Work family holds as a value is the fact that no matter where we are in the world, we are together. We are connected. This week, I've been thinking a lot about community. In churches, community has been somewhat of a buzzword for the past few years as organizations try to build relationships and bolster a sense of belonging. Community though, in its organic form, can't be limited to locale or association. Each of us belongs to numerous communities...through work, through family, through location and many other avenues. Last night, a news report of two firefighters losing their lives in the line of duty, brought me back to a community that I'd long thought I was outside of. Growing up, my dad was a firefighter and we spent many Christmases, birthdays, plain old days in the firehall, sharing our lives with other firefighters and their families. Hearing that news report stopped me in my tracks and my thoughts went back to firefighters I've known and loved as part of our extended family over the years. I know some of the things that are working behind the scenes to make sure that these families are cared for in the coming days, months and years. LIfe at the rink has become another community for our family and literally, it's been one of the best things about living here in Saskatoon. Last week, a teammate of Aidan, needed our community. His father, a man we spend numerous hours sitting in cold rinks and warming up cold toes with, had a stroke and is now in hospital for the next few months. One of the other dads on the team has arranged rides for Aidan's teammate for the next months, donations were pooled and groceries assembled and it was amazing to watch this little community built on not much more than shared space and affinity, has risen to the occasion to provide for a family that really needs people around them right now.Communities can be strengthened or scattered by the very difficult things that life throws at us. Divorce recovery groups. Single moms support groups. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. AA. It can also be strengthened by a shared hope or renewed commitment to care for others in the midst of days that would cause many to just crawl into our shells and wither away. There's a tiny community that is growing in a small village on the border of Zambia and the Congo. It's a small village that when I first walked into it, was clean and quiet with wide paths and an absence of litter. It took me a few minutes to realize that the lack of litter was because there was no money in the village to buy consumable goods and no nearby stores to purchase them if there was. The quiet was an absence of electricity, no mindless music filling the streets and eliminating the need for conversations in a village in which there weren't many subjects past how to find food or survive for the night. The community in this village begins with a woman named Hilda. She's an older lady and her eyes are bright. She is gathering friends and like minded grannies to care for the children in the village. Children who are in desperate conditions. It was my first experience with a group of children in Africa in which they weren't trusting or running out to meet us. They either tried to ignore us passing by until curiosity turned their sideways glances into a full peek or they followed from behind hedges at a cautious distance. One small girl caught Lynn and my attention immediately from the path. She was clutching her shirt closed over what was the largest, most distended belly I've ever seen. She was tiny and looked about the size of a 5 or 6 year old but her face was older. She was suffering from some intestinal issues that I can't imagine and all I wanted to do was scoop her into a vehicle and take her to a clinic...wherever that may be. She skirted our glances and stayed elusive for the entire time we were there, stealing peeks and sitting just out of reach of us for the day. We walked into a small yard of a grandmother who was caring for her grandchildren. Her name was Charity and her little granddaughter shared the same name. George sat on the edge of her home, the cement floor providing that small ledge that provides most of the outdoor seating in African villages, and scooped the little one onto his lap. She perched there quietly, staring straight ahead, for quite some time before she'd venture a glance up at the man who held her.
I sat next to Towela, a volunteer with Hands, and we slowly became encircled by the children of the village as they grew braver and crept closer. One of the girls I noticed following us was a taller girl with a jean shirt and several small children hiding behind her. She kept creeping closer but any eye contact, sent her back and the children behind tripping over themselves to stay in her shadow. She wasn't going to be won over by strangers and visitors. She was protective of the children in her wake and her demeanor was more investigative than curious. After a long time, and advances by smaller children, she came close enough for me to ask her name. Towela asked her name and she whispered "Fortunate" and then looked down at her feet. Fortunate, indeed. Born a female in an environment that is hostile to all but particularly to girls. To be left in a village that lacked adults, schools, medicine, even shelter for most. A village in which adults don't often provide care but represent a threat as men return from the mines weekly to wreak havoc in the lives of vulnerable children without protection.
This morning, as thoughts of community and connection culminate, I sat at the computer to talk to Kristal and a stack of photos lays beside the keyboard. I see Fortunate and I hope that the small community that Hilda is building begins to spread until it surrounds Fortunate and the children of this village in the way that the volunteers in Mulenga have surrounded the children there. Being in this particular village made the children of Mulenga seem fortunate, to have those who care for them, check on them, feed them and make sure they are in school. I am praying that Fortunate's name loses its irony and becomes her perfect moniker. www.handsatwork.org