Loosely thinking about what to write for our monthly storytelling evening in case someone else didn’t show. On a theme of For Others.
Can’t work out if I prefer Einstein’s ‘Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile’ or Buddha’s ‘ If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path’.
When I first came to volunteer at Forever Angels Babyhome in 2014, there were 57 children there, all under the age of 5, and 10 in the tiny baby house, 6 months and under.
Due to staff illness, I spent a lot of time in a 2 month period in the tiny baby house where the 10 babies , and Eliza, were.
Eliza was 6 years old but had been abandoned with advanced hydrocephalus . We have paid for 5 shunt surgeries for her but her level of care means she needs to live with the tiny babies.
Half the children who come to the baby home are there for interim care – their mum died giving birth (18% of deaths of women aged 15- 49 are related to childbirth) and we look after them from tiny babies until they are weaned and walking and can go back to dad .
So, that summer, we had twin girls, who’d been there since their mother died a few weeks after giving birth, Exposed to HIV and both with TB . Twins by name but in no other way alike. They woke up the same way they spent their days. Esther, immediately awake and big -eyed, beaming at the world and laughing at anything she saw; Paschazia, taking a long time to come round, grumpy and wary of the world, usually with a quiet moan.
Two other older boys came in, looking like twigs snapped off a tree in the middle of a drought. Both of their mums had died giving birth and and their dads had tried to keep them alive with tea.
They were both HIV positive and in pain from severe malnutrition but hanging on.
Emmanuel was a permanently scared looking and unhappy baby of around 6 months, weighing barely 3 kgs.
Luj, 10 months old and not yet 4kg, was just sagging skin and bone, sunken cheekbones, unable to move any part of his body or lift his head and yet the widest smile in the world. Like Julia Roberts , or Eddie Murphy, but with no teeth! His smile was so amazing, I put a picture of him on top of the Christmas tree ( and , in fact, I still do that at home in the UK!)
The other 6 were all abandoned.
Paschal, on a church doorstep, with a St Christopher medal tied round his wrist and a note with his name and a plea to take care of him.
Oscar left new born and premature on a rubbish tip, amongst the rats and the marabou stork – initially so withdrawn from trauma they thought he couldn’t speak or see and so grumpy he was called Oscar the Grouch, after the Sesame Street character, by the volunteers.
Bahai and Nellie were both left, separately, by the side of the road.
Feona was left in the hospital at birth – dad fleeing when mum died and he saw that Feona’s head was bigger than usual – a sure sign of hydrocephalus.
Janeth was left in a ditch, premature and weighing only 1 kg.
We will never know their stories; whether poverty, rape, the wrong father or mental illness played a part in the desperate act of abandoning their child.
Over those 2 months I watched the incredible staff caring and looking after these children. They are, of course, paid to do a job but they go above and beyond:
making an incubator from blankets and painstakingly slowly feeding premature and malnourished babies with a syringe
a heavily pregnant mama talking to a distraught father as he handed over his baby , knowing that in a months time it could be her husband doing that
a mama working with milk leaking from her breasts because her own baby is at home while she works
mamas living in one room with their four children walking an hour to work to do a 12 hour shift with children who have more toys and better condition clothes than her children do
carrying babies on their back for the whole 12 hour shift because they won’t stop crying
cheering the children on when they are learning to crawl and walk, while sometimes missing that moment themselves at home
playing with them and helping to teaching them everything from how to wash themselves to writing their name
nursing them to health when they are sick with as much care and tenderness as they do with their own children.
All for someone else’s children.
And I have come back regularly and watched this selflessness and care continue for all the children that come in.
Forever Angels realised that we might be able to stop some of the abandonment and malnutrition if we could feed the babies at home . So that’s what we do now – each week between 40 and 50 families, with orphaned and malnourished babies come to the Forever Angels to receive formula milk , training on nutrition, health, business skills and help with health matters. We can see the ones who would have come to us get to stay with their families and the number of babies found abandoned has dropped in this area.
They don’t keep stats on the number of abandoned babies that die before they are found but, anecdotally, that is also slightly less.
Today we only have five in the tiny baby house.
What happened to the 10? The opposing personality twins, Esther and Paschazia, went back to their dad. The family is poor and their life is hard out in a village but they are loved,
The biggest smile in Africa also went home to dad and a new step-mum. They came to visit the other month and he is doing really well.
The scared twig was with us a for a few months but he did not go home. He died in Bugando Hospital when they ran out of oxygen, with one of our staff literally running from ward to ward searching for an oxygen tank with some left in it.
Paschal left on the church doorstep was adopted by a pastor and his family.
Bahati, Janeth and Nellie were also adopted into Tanzanian families- Bahati, chosen to be the male heir to a farm for a family who only had girls, Janeth still tiny enough to be passed off as a natural newborn to a besotted mum and Nellie to be a much loved girl to a longtime childless couple.
And Oscar the Grouch is still there. No longer grouchy. But funny and lively , very attached to all of his many mamas and still waiting and hoping for a forever family while the staff carry on loving and caring for him.
Feona , (see Feona’s Journey) after three surgeries, a long fight and a day long drive around Mwanza searching for blood for a transfusion, also died. In a last act of caring, Mamas on their lunch break, and some on their day off, came in to wash her body, dress her for her coffin and walk with her up to the cemetery, to raise their voices in song to send her on her way …. a final act of caring , to bury someone else’s child.