Sunday, December 11, 2011
She was on her own, with 5 kids to raise ...
As we followed the small footpath worn into the grassy slope, I looked ahead and could see two small figures watching our approach. One looked to be a small, thin woman holding an infant, and the other a small child in a bright pink sweat suit. A dog barked as we neared, and the woman appeared near the rock wall entrance and nodded her approval to enter.
Her three children grinned in shyness as they escorted us into the small enclosure of their family's home - 3 round huts (one used for cooking, where smoke seeped through the roof from a smoldering fire inside), one for the grandparents of the children, and one for their mother, who we discovered was raising not three but FIVE small children. The three oldest are attending Trees of Glory CarePoint, and the two youngest were hovering near her skirts and on her hip.
She smiled tentatively and we greeted her. As we talked, she began to fill in details for us as I asked questions and inquired about her children. The 3 older kids, Haile (10), Mekdes (7) and Gosaye (5) attend the CarePoint with Mekdes being the first to attend, and then quickly followed by Haile and Gosaye as soon as enrollment was expanded. (Haile, Mekdes and Gosaye are sponsored by the Muecke, Culwell and Wasson families.) She expressed how thankful she was for Trees of Glory, and for the school there that her kids were able to attend. (Behind her, I could see the English alphabet scratched into the mud wall of the hut with a white rock and I smiled thinking about my kids writing on the walls with a crayon when they were little.)
I inquired about the children's father, and she explained that he had left her when she was pregnant with their 5th child - the sweet infant she cradled on her hip. She shrugged and looked off into the distance as she told us how he had decided he had too much to handle with the responsibility of 5 kids, so he left to go live with his family near the Kenyan border. She was on her own, with 5 kids to raise.
Tilting her head toward one of the huts, she told us that this was her parent's place and they had welcomed her into their home - and had even built a hut for her and her 5 kids. However, the roof was not working properly and was letting rain in, so for the time being, they were sleeping in the cooking hut. She pushed the door open with her foot and invited us into the smoky interior, and I could immediately see why the children's eyes were watery and why they were coughing so much. The hut was full of smoke, and my throat and eyes started to burn right away.
Sensing this, she kicked at the smoldering fire to try to disperse some of the smoke. We told her it was OK, no need to worry about it for us. The interior was sparse - not much more than a cooking fire area and a mud bench around the perimeter for seating. I asked where they slept and she told us the two older kids slept in the hut with their grandparents while she slept on the floor with the 3 youngest on animal hides. We then stepped back outside into the sunshine and I took a deep breath of fresh air and stifled the urge to cough.
She relied on the CarePoint for nutritious food for her older kids and it was evident that this was a heavy burden that had been lifted from her shoulders. I gestured to the little boy and asked if he could attend the CarePoint. She raised her eyebrows - and I turned to Fikre and asked if we could enroll him. He was at the CarePoint, following his older siblings the next day, and Maea immediately asked if we could be his sponsor family. I saw little Diriba in his bright pink sweatsuit on Maea's hip much of the next 2 days.
We spoke of how proud we were of her for being a good mother to her children and for letting us come alongside her to help provide for her children. As her baby snuggled contentedly into her thin shoulder, I told her how beautiful her children are and how much they are loved by God and their sponsor families. As is common in Ethiopia, she hid her smile behind her hand and lowered her eyes - but her smile never faded. We prayed with her there - for her and her kids, and we said our goodbyes. As we walked back to the CarePoint, I kept looking back and she watched us the entire way with her baby on her hip and her hand raised to wave every time.