June 2016 Evan & Natasha Richmond Update
THE HARDEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN:
I've held and cared for an eight year old dying of AIDs. I've walked through a landfill as the poorest of the poor dig through the rubbish looking for something to salvage and sell. I've held a two year old so malnourished that he looked no more than six months. I've walked through hospital wards where patients lay in such agonizing pain, skin falling off, and an unbearable stench filled the room amongst inconceivable medical facilities. I've walked through a brothel and I've sat in the dirt playing with children in the poorest of townships in Sub-Saharan Africa. I've sat in mud huts and seen unimaginable living conditions. I've lived in a community where death seems like a constant inescapable theme, where suffering, hopelessness and despair abound. I've witnessed first-hand the extremities of the twenty-first century: while western societies enjoy unprecedented luxuries, those in developing nations face harsh and unbearable conditions.
Amongst the many heart wrenching moments of which none can truly be compared or measured, it may surprise you to know some of the one's I've found the hardest...
A family of four arrived at our centre a few months ago in need of emergency care and crisis intervention. Children upon arrival often seem timid, nervous and precautious. Usually they have been through so much sorrow abuse and neglect that they are unsure whether this will be just like any other horror they have been through. There are simply no words to convey: "you're safe now, you can relax now, there is a light at the end of this tunnel." Only time and love will truly allow that message to sink into their hearts.
While the hope is to keep siblings together, sometimes they are separated into different dorms because of gender and age. That was the case for this particular family. The oldest of the family was barely a preteen and the youngest a mere toddler. Watching them interact, I could tell the oldest had been mothering the youngest in the absence of their mother. We got each of the siblings settled in their dorms. Later I brought the older three siblings to visit their youngest sister in the baby house. The little one's face lit up with joy when she saw them and she ran straight for them abandoning her toys and newfound friends. They played. They laughed. They hugged they kissed.... Then it was time to go back. The oldest sister tried to slip out of the room without causing a scene. The little one saw her step out. As I went to step outside, the youngest one bolted past one of her new Mozambican caretakers and ran as fast as she her little legs could carry her sobbing and longing for her older sister. Then, this her older sister bent down, gave her one last hug until the next visit, and pried her little sister off of her to pass her to the Mozambican caretaker in charge of the baby house. Then this remarkable young preteen looked at me and said with pain yet determination and confidence, "we better leave now, the longer we stay, the harder it will be for her to settle down."
My heart sunk watching the love and bond between this family that has gone through so much. Then my heart crumbled as I saw the maturity of the twelve year old sister, knowing it was best to leave quickly, knowing her sister was is in good care now, and knowing what would allow her to transition best. Such wisdom, such love and such heartbreak.
As I walked back to the dorm with her I tried to hold back my tears, thinking of my own sisters and how it broke my heart when we left Canada to move to Mozambique. But I was an adult. My sisters were adults. This was different. This was somehow far worse. Perhaps the lesser of evils knowing the horrors they had escaped, but horrible nonetheless.
The other hardest moment came a few months later when we accepted a little girl into our temporary care after she was orphaned and her sixteen year old sister was too sick to care for her in the community. When this precious sixteen year old dropped her sister off, her eyes swelled with tears. She had already assumed far too much responsibility for her fragile and frail body and needed some time to focus on her own recovery. I showed her around our dorm and told her that we'd take good care of her little sister. I stared into her sorrow filled eyes and tried to find the words to somehow convey, "Don't worry we'll take good care of her. I have little sisters too. I promise, we'll take good care of her until you're healthy again." But for times like these, there a simply no words that can soothe.
And well, there you have it, one of the hardest things I've ever seen: sisters torn apart. Probably not what you might expect given the daily atrocities that surround us, but for some reason these hit me in a unique way. I know longing they have as an adult separated from my sisters, but their pain as children surpasses even my imagination. These sister moments strike me at my core because they remind me of my own (Brittany & Kaleigh) for whom I am forever grateful and always missing.
And so, in the meantime, while I wait to see my sisters again and while our precious little ones wait to be reunited with family or another healthy alternative, Evan and I try to throw as many sibling play dates as possible. We choose a few of our girls with male siblings in other dorms and invite them over for some fun sibling bonding time. They laugh the afternoon away and I can't but help smile. I hope someday they'll cherish these memories as much as I do my own. And slowly but surely someday the hardest thing I've ever seen will be remembered by something beautiful family memories. The family memories they share in both their biological bonds with siblings and the bond of love they share in the family we've blended together amongst our dorm of seventy-five beautiful little ones, our incredible Mozambican team and two crazy Canadians.
For regular updates, please visit our blog evanandnatasha.blogspot.ca
We have been so encouraged by the first few months of the program this year. I wanted to give you an update on the literacy program. Our new teacher Florencia is incredible. She has such an amazing heart for children with special needs which is so incredibly rare here in Mozambique. She has become such an incredible advocate for our girls. Her first group of girls consists of four teenagers with special needs that have fallen through just about every crack there is to fall through in the regular school system. They don't always like trying to do what they have failed at for so long, but she keeps pushing them. And the little girls working with her to learn basic literacy are doing well and love the extra help. We know this program is already impacting their futures.