November, 2009: I was living in Swaziland preparing to return to the States to spend the Christmas holidays with family and friends as well raise funds for the following year’s support and projects. For several weeks Thoko had been asking me to look at a toddler* from a homestead near hers. She was concerned because the child didn’t appear well, didn’t talk and her head was big. As my departure date grew nearer and our days were busier and busier, we finally set a date to meet at the hospital and clinic in Manzini. The morning we were to meet, the child’s Aunt (a child of about 8 or 10) carried the toddler to Thoko’s house for help. The child was barely moving. Thoko gave her something to eat, cleaned her up and found some clothes for her to wear. She then brought her to the hospital to see the Doctor. I arrived at the time we had to agreed to meet which was a couple of hours after she got there because we knew the wait would be long.
Normally, I didn’t approach a child to touch or hug them until they had warmed up to having this different looking (white) woman make faces and talk to them. But when I saw this toddler, something in me couldn’t resist picking her up immediately. Holding her was like holding a 2×6. She was as stiff and still as a board. She didn’t move a muscle during the 3-4 hours we waited for the Doctor.
The Doctor said she was severely malnourished but said there was nothing he could do because she didn’t have family that could stay with her in the hospital to take care of her. The Doctor and I had a few words that were probably more appropriate in tone when I worked at IBM than they were as a female missionary speaking to a male African Doctor. But he got the message and admitted her to the malnourished ward and ordered a hospital aid to take care of her. He ran a bunch of tests and it was a miracle that they all came out ok. Her big head? It was because her body was so emaciated.
I bought her some clothes and disposable nappies (diapers) and went every day for a couple of hours to see her. I would change her, feed her but mainly I just held her, rocked and sang “Jesus loves you” to her. (It was the only song I could remember the words to at that time!) As she started getting stronger, she started humming with me and eventually started playing and even running. The other mothers that were staying with their babies on the ward would laugh as I did all of this. They didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak enough SiSwati to know what they were saying. One day they said something to me with stern faces. The nurse’s aid told me they were saying I shouldn’t come and visit Nomile or play with her because she always cried when I left. But after their stern message was delivered they all broke out in laughter. A mother’s love is a mother’s love in any country, or language.
The question still remained: What was going to happen to this child? She couldn’t stay in the hospital. She couldn’t go back home because it was determined that she had been neglected and abused; left on her own to fend for herself and not be seen or heard. The Doctor begged me to take her because he was convinced if she went back she would be dead within 6 months. I told him I couldn’t. I was leaving for the States in a few days. Social Welfare was trying to get involved but didn’t have transport to her homestead. The day before I left for the States, I drove the Social Worker to Thoko’s house. I stayed there while Thoko walked with the Social Worker and a representative of the Chief to the child’s “home.” When all was done, and I was driving the Chief’s representative home and Thoko and I were taking the Social Worker back to the hospital, I understood enough of the conversation to know that the child’s grandparents and the Chief’s representative wanted the child to be returned to the area and that they wanted me to fund her care. I said no that wasn’t going to happen. After dropping the two off, Thoko and I sat in the car and just cried. We didn’t know what was going to happen but we both knew that me paying for someone to take in the child was the wrong answer. I got on a plane to the US the next day not knowing what was going to happen. Many tears of sadness were shed.
After the child’s grandfather realized I had left and meant what I said, he eventually signed away the rights to the child. The Social Worker had just sent a orphaned child that was on the malnutrition unit to a children’s home in Mbabane so she called and asked if the home would take one more child. I had met the woman who ran the home a few times but didn’t really know her. In 2010 and 2011 I got to know her and the children’s home very well. It was such a blessing to watch this child who was so dear to me start coming out of her shell.
Fast forward to the tears of joy: Today I got an email from my friend who runs the home where this child lives. Our little girl just finished second grade. She got all A’s on her report card! Over the years I’ve watched her go from a very cautious, quiet little girl to a loving, well behaved yet a little mischievous quite normal girl. She is healthy, happy, has a great laugh and smile. She loves to do extra chores to earn a sweetie (candy) or bag of chips. When I saw her last May she even sang a song for us as we recorded it. Today’s report card is over the top!
Thoko and I have a strong faith which we share regularly. Our faith has kept us going through many sad situations most of which have turned out for the better. Not all have though. We feel so blessed to have been a part of giving this child life and a bright future. I want to shout it from the mountain tops, but alas, I will share it with all of you who have continued to give support through prayers and financial assistance. This is one example of what your dedication has helped achieve for this one child. God bless you and Merry Christmas. Thank you Lord for hearing our prayers.
*The name of the child and the home she now resides in have intentionally been left off to protect her identity.