On Tuesday, we visited the communities of Chitobe and Kamakonde. These two communities are quite close together and we observed, once again, that when the pavement ends and the roads get really rough, that’s when you know you are getting close to the communities we serve in. We started our day in Chitobe with the care workers and we were supposed to visit three different families of children. When we arrived at the home of the first child, the other children we were going to spend time with were also there. It meant we could visit with all of them together and gave us time to play some games and just be with them for a little bit longer, not having to walk to each individual home. The first little girl’s name was Treasure. She was wearing a worn out dress, inside out and unzipped down the back. She was really sweet and a bit timid around us but by the time we got to playing games, she was smiling and enjoying herself. She lives with her grandmother in a small, cement blocked house with no door or window glass. A threadbare chitenge, or Zambian cloth, waved in the doorway and provided minimal privacy. The yard was bare and swept clean and when we entered, the grandmother and her neighbour were sitting under the trees in the shade with the kids running around the yard. I’d seen Treasure and another little girl, Grace, earlier in the day when we arrived at the community. They seem to be good friends and sit close to one another. Grace is half of Treasure’s height but is clearly the bolder of the two. She came and sat next to me on a small wooden bench that I was teetering on, praying it didn’t collapse under me! Grace’s mother turned out to be the other woman in the yard, visiting with Treasure’s grandmother. They were friendly and open, telling us that they were discussing the recent death of their neighbour next door, who had passed away earlier in the week from malaria. In the yard of the deceased woman, sat three or four teenaged kids, and it made me wonder which of them, if not all, were now orphans and in charge of the household.
In front of me was a small girl with nearly half her hair gone. She had scar tissue along the front half of her scalp and when I asked the care workers what had happened, they explained that her mother and father were very careless with her and that she was burned by a pot of water being poured above her and spilling on to her head. When I asked her name, she told me it was Mumbi. She had two teeth missing and a quick smile and beyond her ratty clothes, I could tell that she was just a gem. Personality oozed out of her and she was quick to smile at anyone, include her friends and take on any game we started. I have a beautiful photo of Towela, from the service centre, chasing Mumbi in a game and they both have the widest smiles on their faces. This is what I think is so beautiful about the way that the care workers build relationships with their kids. It’s genuine love for these kids that motivates them to keep going – to be the ones who love the kids and teach them and guide them as they grow. It’s not about feeding kids, although that is one of the three essential services that the community organizations provide, it’s about providing holistic care for the children and building into them a sense of how God loves them by exemplifying it in daily life.
As we came to the home, we had passed a small girl, just a toddler, who was crying in the path. Towela had picked her, called her Nsosi, having known her, and comforted her as we walked towards the home we were to visit. Once the games started, I pulled out my camera but noticed Nsosi sitting in the dirt exactly where Towela had placed her, with her back to the games. Being too little to play, I picked her up in my arms and she sat with her legs around me, face to my chest and rested there watching the others play. Her foot had a large oozing wound on it from the top of her foot onto her toes and her fingers also had the same wounds. It seemed to me that she had been burnt but that the scabs had been rubbed off or never fully healed. It was obviously painful as she flinched when I held her hand up to have a closer look. I asked what had happened and was told that she too had been burned by boiling water. I just held her for awhile and sang to her and she dozed off and on in my arms while the others played around us. When it was time for us to leave, Towela carried her back to her home and it was then that I realized that Nsosi and Mumbi were sisters. Both burned by hot water. When we arrived at their home, I could see clearly what the problem was. Her parents were both in the yard, drinking some homemade alcoholic concoction and beckoning us to come and sit with them. The girls ran in and we just carried on. It was hard to leave two little ones in the “care” of ones who seemingly couldn’t even care for themselves. The home was in disrepair beyond what we had seen anywhere else and the fact that both parents were drunk, reminded me how incredibly vulnerable children are even if they have parents in communities like these. The parents themselves are incredibly vulnerable in a state like this...inadequate shelter, no sense of purpose beyond numbing the pain of life, no hope of employment or improvement of their lives...I can’t imagine how they get out of bed each day other than to grasp for some fresh air, free of the home falling in around them. I’m not making excuses for them, I just see that basic things are beyond their capacity, and they are falling further and further behind. I don’t understand for a minute how one child being burned wouldn’t shake you from the numbness and make you want more out of life, but both of your children? I can’t imagine. I’m not just saying that. I can not imagine. All I know is that life in these communities is difficult at best. At worst, it’s unimaginable. When I get to the point where I think, it’s not so bad...this is manageable...that’s when it’s time for me to pack my bags, go home and not return. I’m not there yet. Not even close.