February 18, 2012


Yesterday I looked into the eyes of hopelessness. I was not prepared for what I saw and I certainly wasn’t prepared for how it left me feeling.
Milagrosa week 2
Milagrosa being weighed- yes, she's gaining!

Late in the morning as the six babies in the nursery were being fed and changed, I carried Milagrosa in my arms and paced the room, calming her as she whimpered gently.

Milagrosa, who has been here for only a few weeks, has beautiful big black eyes which are often crossed, making it difficult for her to focus. Perhaps this is the reason she was left, abandoned, in a pile of garbage in the city. She loves to be cuddled, to be held close and tight. Milagrosa (Great Miracle, how apt) is putting on weight every week. In the nursery we celebrate the small victories and, when the babies are gaining weight, we know we are winning.

As I rocked her and quietly sang into her ear, I heard a weak call from outside the front door. “ ‘Cença” (short for “com licença”, literally “with licence”) is the equivalent of an Aussie “ ‘Scuse me...” and gains entry through a doorway, clears a path in a crowd, allows reaching across another person, interrupts a conversation politely. I have heard it thousands of times and have said it often myself. Today, as I moved to the door, a feebly spoken “ ‘cença” drew me outside where I would look into depths of hopelessness that are beyond my soul’s ability to fully comprehend.
F&R 5
Twins Francisco and Raquelina settling into the nursery

As I walked outside, I saw a woman sitting on the bench. She looked worn out. She was sweating, her arms hung limp by her sides as her hands rested upturned on the bench. Her face was drawn, her shoulders slumped from exhaustion. It took a moment to notice the bundle on her back. She was carrying a baby so tiny I could hardly make out his shape under the capulana that held him securely to his mama. Sitting next to her on the bench was a boy, about thirteen, carrying another baby in his arms. This baby, too, was tiny. I pulled back the blanket to see her face, so fragile, so frail.

The mother of these tiny, hungry, underweight twins looked me in the eyes. Her voice was so quiet I had to lean in to hear her. “I’m very sick. I can’t feed my babies. I was told to come here and you would look after them. Please, you have to take my babies.”

I was glad to have a moment to catch my thoughts as I slowly translated the Portuguese in my head once more to be sure I had understood. The look in her eyes had already told me the outline of her story and her words now filled in the details.

So matter-of-fact. So very calm and quiet. So desperate. This mother had come to the undeniable conclusion that her babies would die if they stayed with her.
F&R 8
Francisco and Raquelina

I do not deal with admissions so made a few calls then sent the mother to the person she needed to talk to, wondering if these tiny babies would be sleeping in the nursery with our other six that night.

Later in the day I tried to process what I had seen and heard, while my heart still ached from the memory of the look in this pleading mama’s eyes.  I considered the fact that the same history applies to many, many of our 260 children here at Zimpeto. I know them as healthy and strong but so many of them were starving and close to death when they arrived. How quickly we forget! The fact is that we take in only the poorest of the poor, the ones who will most probably die without the care they can receive here at Zimpeto.

This is not melodramatic exaggeration nor is it poetic licence. It is a fact. It is why we are here.

Zimpeto’s children are safe. They are well-fed, they are clothed and educated and they have a home. Here, they have a hope and a future towards which they can reach as they grow up.
Raquelina settled and sleeping

Many are eventually reintegrated – returned to their home and family – once the family’s circumstances have changed. A father eventually finds a job that pays enough for him to feed his family. The mother’s second “husband”, or third or fourth, who was abusing his stepchildren, moves out. An aunt appears seemingly out of nowhere and takes her orphaned niece home. A grandmother receives the gift of a new home and monthly food packages from the ministry so that she can care for her grandchildren herself. There are many good news stories here!

So, as I remember the look in the eyes of the twins’ mama, I think not only of the hopelessness and grief I see there but also of the hope her babies have because she brought them here. Such a situation is by no means fair or just but it is what it is, for now. The heart of this ministry is to keep families together in a home in the community whenever possible but, in the most desperate of situations, this is not feasible.

Yesterday the reintegration team who investigates the potential admissions of children took over and I did not see the mother again. Today she was taken to the hospital and is receiving treatment. The twins are here, in the nursery. They are six weeks old, Raquelina weighing 2kg and Francisco 2.5kg. They will live in the nursery for as long as it takes for them to become strong and healthy and for their mother to get well. They will stay at the Centre beyond this time if their mother does not improve and no adult relatives can be found.

One day at a time is all we can deal with here. A few weeks ago we had six strapping, active toddlers well-settled in the nursery. Today we have eight underweight, malnourished babies, all unexpected and each one a gift. They need a total of close to 70 feeds a day. Imagine the nappies! God bless our tias who will be getting very little sleep for the next few months.

Out of the grim darkness of a hopeless, heart-breaking situation, two babies have found the light of life. They will be fed and clothed and loved on and cuddled and carried and prayed over with words of health and hope. Their future is secure despite the hopelessness of their beginning. There are no words to describe the tragedy of this beginning for their mother, but I choose to look forward on behalf of her babies and to speak life and joy into their little lives.

God brought two starving babies through our gates just in time to be rescued and, in this, I find reason for hope in what so very often looks like a hopeless world
6 babies
Last year's nursery residents now live in the Baby House

All babies 4
Our new-look and much younger nursery family of eight