Why did I go to Swaziland? For the past six years, I have served on the board of Children’s Hope Chest, an orphan care organization that is doing amazing work in Russia, Swaziland, Uganda, and Ethiopia. In that six years, I have also become a mother to three incredible children – all through adoption. The issue of orphan care has become that much more important to me as I know first hand the effects of abandonment and neglect and it deeply affects my heart when I think that Lian or Anna or Nathanael could be one of these children waiting to be loved by someone.
And I want there to be faithful, honest, loving people who are that someone in an orphan’s life, rather than the sexual predators and vermon that literally wait outside the doors of an orphanage, vocational school or hut when these orphans are forced into the real world. So it encourages my heart when I meet more of these “someone’s” who are that safe and caring person in an orphan’s life. To meet a “gogo” (Grandmother) who appalled at the fact that Swazis who live next to a garbage dump were selling their children for sex so the family could have food on the table, chose to knock on every door and plead with the parents to find another solution. Turns out she was the solution. The need was a lack of money to send children to school. So she became their school. This gogo who has nothing herself in terms of financial means, started feeding and educating the children of the dump and now 250 children are at her carepoint every day. Children’s Hope Chest is now partnering with her and the carepoint has been matched to a church community in the States whose church members have now “adopted” all of these children by sponsoring them, visiting them annually and providing the resources needed to ensure these children are fed and educated above subsistence. This is why I wanted to go.
But I also left feeling conflicted inside because I have seen so much poverty and pain on trips just like the one I took last week. I witnessed it in my Seattle neighborhood and I witness it every day in Rwanda. I have been “over educated” when it comes to caring for the orphan and my heart and mind long to do more with that knowledge. I’m not sure what this year will bring, but I know my heart has not been broken for me to just feel good about myself for wanting to care for the orphan. My heart has been broken so it can bring forth healing.
We stopped at a homestead to learn more about what the Swazi people are experiencing on a daily basis. We were supposed to hear about the plight of the orphan. We were surprised to meet a 38 year old woman whose health has been affected by a stroke, that led to epilepsy. Ndomi. She and I are the same exact age. I noticed her foot was black and horribly deformed. As polite as possible, I asked the mom what had happened. Ndomi had been burned by oil years ago, leaving a gaping wound at least an inch deep and two inches wide on the side of her foot. Since access to a clinic is at least a day’s walk, the mother puts a salve of burnt ash as an old wives’ tale remedy. Without realizing it, the wound has become gangrene. Our team respectfully asked if we could take the woman to the clinic at our carepoint. She agreed and I found myself holding Ndomi’s hand for 45 minutes as the doctor poured hydrogen peroxide over a gangrene wound. Ndomi would look at me in fear as if to ask if she was really going to be okay and I would look straight in her eyes and tell her that I know it hurts, but she will be better. She squeezed my hand so tight. I sang “Be still and know that I am God” quietly to her.
I marveled at the inner strength and courage this woman had – a woman most of Swazi society deems unworthy – a courage to allow a group of strangers to put her in a car, take her to a clinic, pour painful medicine over her foot and allow people to poke and prod at the gangrene. A staff member then took her to the hospital so they could surgically remove the dead tissue and thus hopefully stop the gangrene from spreading. I don’t know if her body will make it.
What I do know is that she was seen, she was known and her courage spoke to me. Keep fighting. No matter how hard the pain. No matter how hard the wound. Keep fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves.