Three weeks old. Underweight. Hungry. Wrapped in an old capulana, tied snugly to the front of his vovo (grandma) with great-auntie walking beside them. Somehow they found their way to us at Zimpeto Children’s Centre. They were here for an hour and this one hour I spent on a busy, hot, dusty “ordinary” day, shook me to the core, reminding me once again why I am here, doing what I do. The baby’s mother left him a few days ago, disappearing into the night, and these two older ladies now have a newborn to feed and no money with which to buy baby formula. The father was not mentioned and the baby has no name. As this tiny, tiny bundle wrapped his minute fingers around mine and gurgled weakly, the significance of this moment captured me and will not let go its grip even a day later. This one hour and this tiny babe crashed through the ordinariness of a day that has become just one of many routine days for me. I email with potential visitors. I administrate our newly-established sponsorship programme. I pray. I play with children. Then I pray some more, never feeling I can pray as much as the needs here warrant. I try to write about it all but, even in this, I have become complacent. Surely the stories have all been told and there’s nothing more to say about “the poor”.
How can one become complacent about poverty and its consequences? I see first-hand, every day, the devastation that poverty wreaks on its victims yet, still, I have allowed my heart to shut down to the suffering of those around me. My compassion has become stale and inaccessible, even in moments when I hear of the afflictions of Mozambican friends and colleagues. I have heard in the past few months of the deaths of four people who were close to us here at the Centre. Two of our precious girls; the man who ran the shop at the Centre gate from whom we bought cool drinks for the kids as a treat; a young man who used to live here and left to be with his extended family. This tally does not count the many deaths of people I have not known personally: a mother in childbirth, the brother of a worker... there are more but my complacency has enabled me to forget the details. When did I become so complacent about poverty? How could I grow to be so unmoved by death? In the world from which I have come, such happenings would make the news every night for a week and cause uproar in the media, and in political and social welfare circles. Here, it is just another day. Yesterday, a brief meeting with a hungry babe in his grandma’s arms shook the complacency that has gradually established itself in my heart in the 3 ½ years I have been here. For this, I am grateful. Mozambique is the 5th poorest nation in the world. Most of the babies we receive into our care are malnourished, many close to the point of starvation when they arrive. I am privileged to spend time each week with our six now-healthy, well-fed, rapidly growing babies in the nursery who are all under one. They came to us sick and struggling and now are round-cheeked , rosy-skinned and delightfully happy. Silvia has rolls of baby fat on her thighs. Sheila is sitting up on her own. Vitoria giggles just at the sight of my wriggling fingers coming close to tickle her chubby tummy. Even in Portuguese, it seems the first “words” from a baby’s mouth are “mum-um-um-um-um...” . This morning Casilda sat in the sand with a bucket over her head, quite content to listen to the echoing noises from under her colourful hat. Gloria cried when she got sand in her mouth. Silvia practised walking in the sand, enjoying the soft landing each time she fell over. Jeremias chewed on his shoe, Vitoria tried to make a fast getaway on her knees, chuckling as I swung her onto my shoulder and carried her back to the mat. Sheila sat and watched quietly, enjoying her more adventurous friends providing entertainment. The nursery is well-stocked with baby formula and bottles and clothes for tiny babies such as yesterday’s visitor, ready for any eventuality. We gave the grandma a baby bottle and some formula to last through to next week when we hope they will come back again if they need more help. We may, though, never see them again and I am okay with that. We prayed for him and his two vovos and, in those moments, I sensed a destiny for this babe that God was sealing. All it took was a can of yellow powder and a plastic bottle to save his life. I can imagine no more powerful gift to give than life and, for a moment God arrested my attention by allowing me to play just a small part in this interplay that has changed a life – make that two lives – forever. Photos: 1. Wendy with Vitoria who lives in the nursery, with her two brothers who also live here at the Centre. 2. Sina when she arrived at Zimpeto. She is now five years old, healthy and full of life and spunk! 3. Casilda and her favourite sand toy 4. Tia Madelena feeding Jeremias, Vitoria, Silvia and Sheila in the nursery.