Earlier this year we heard that Eugenio was missing. Five years old, innocent, sheltered, no street smarts. He was gone. He was playing in the sand with some of his friends not far from his home and then he was gone.
For several years, Eugenio lived here at Zimpeto, first in the Baby House and then in one of the smaller dorms. He was content here with his twin sister and a dorm full of pre-schoolers and he was thriving. But here is never the best place to be amidst the whirlwind of 260 children when there is the possibility of being with family, and Eugenio and his twin sister went to live with their grandma and auntie as soon as circumstances allowed. They were missed here but they were now where they belonged.
Within a few weeks of moving to his new house, Eugenio disappeared. When I heard that he was missing, my mind raced to all the awful possibilities. The most likely scenario was that he was wandering the baffling maze of sandy paths in the community, unable to find his way home. He lived in a house with no phone, behind a gate with no number, on a dirt track with no name. He had not lived there long enough to get to know the area around his house or to be known by the neighbours.
Or, had he joined the children playing in the huge open sewer pipes running along the main road where several had drowned the year before? Had he roamed onto the road and been hit by a car with the police having no way to find and inform his family?
Had he been taken without anyone noticing? Witchcraft is rife in Mozambique; child trafficking is common and often related to witchcraft. Last time I drove across the border to South Africa, my trunk was searched for children I might be smuggling out of the country to sell. Had Eugenio been taken out of Mozambique?
The family took his photo to the local TV station and, that night, his smiling face was seen in the living rooms of those Mozambicans who have electricity and are wealthy enough to own a television. This garnered no response.
By the time we at Zimpeto had heard of Eugenio’s disappearance, he had been gone for ten days. Ten whole days! He is five years old! Our team immediately began sending messages out across the world asking for prayer. A search party was organised for the next day.
The searchers were looking for a tiny needle in a huge, huge haystack. Where to begin? Several cars full of willing volunteers left the Centre early on day eleven. They went first to Eugenio’s home to talk with his family, then to the police station, to the local stores and stalls, and to all the neighbours’ homes. They spread out, covering as much ground as they could. They showed his photo to everybody but he had not been seen.
They prayed. And we prayed. And you prayed. Thank you for praying!
Around lunch time, a neighbour suggested a last-ditch attempt to find him: go to the local government-run orphanage: just possibly, if a kindly stranger had found him wandering the streets, they may not have taken him to the police station but to a children’s home and, just maybe, the children’s centre had not reported it.
Clutching at straws was all that was left to do... and clutching at straws succeeded.
We all breathed a heavy sigh of relief and, ever since, have been whispering prayers of protection over our 260 kids.
These children have already been lost and found; once in a lifetime is more than enough.