Thursday, January 27, 2011

Right on Our Doorstep

This afternoon, Matello, our outreach coordinator, came to me with a pressing concern.

One of our safe-home caregivers had arrived at work with information about a young boy, in a village not five minutes from TTL named Checha, who appeared to be severely malnourished and in an unstable home situation.

The mother of 16-month-old Molefi had arrived with him at her own grandfather's house a few days before Christmas, ostensibly on a holiday visit. A few days later, she had vanished, leaving Molefi behind with his 75-year-old, half-blind and hard-of-hearing great grandfather.

The current location of Molefi's mother, and of his own grandparents, is unknown.

At times, TTL is reluctant to bring children to the safe-home who may never be able to be reunited with family once healthy. As TTL is not an orphanage, such situations can present a maze of problems, and it is sometimes better to refer the child directly to the Department of Social Welfare. At the same time, however, it is often a moral imperative that we intervene immediately -- as I felt was the case in this situation.

Matello and I made the decision to go to the village right away to assess the situation, and if necessary, talk to the village chief about bringing the child to the safe-home -- for reintegration concerns to be hashed out later.

When we arrived at the home, the stone front of which was crumbling, we talked to the great grandfather, who ushered us inside. There we found Molefi, and an older female cousin, sitting on the ground eating small bowls of papa and potatoes. The girl's mother, Molefi's aunt, was also in the home, behind a curtain, nursing her own baby.

Molefi was filthy and covered in flies, which I tried to swat away in vain. The great grandfather, obviously very caring, showed his concern and asked for our help. To stand Molefi up and show us the boy's malnourished condition, the old man tried to take the bowl of papa away from Molefi, who cried and clung to the bowl with what seemed a sad desperation for the scant calories it held.

I picked him up and carried him outside so we could weigh and measure him. As I began removing his clothes, I realized the bottom edge of his shirt, at the back, was caked in his own dried feces.

It didn't take long for us to determine that we would take Molefi with us. With that in mind, we loaded him and his great grandfather into our car and drove over to the home of the chief.

After a long discussion in Sesotho, the chief agreed to write a letter acknowledging his knowledge of the great grandfather's arrangement with TTL, and we were soon driving back to the safe-home, Matello holding Molefi in the passenger seat.

Since then, the bo'me here have given him a bath and dressed him in clean clothes. He is now sitting in the playroom, drawing the interest of the other toddlers in our care.

For me, the entire episode was a reminder of the massive need here in Mokhotlong -- not just in the surrounding villages, but practically on TTL's doorstep.

I wish I knew the reason why his mother felt she needed to leave him behind. But without that knowledge, I only feel the relief of knowing that he is now here, as safe and cared for as a child can be.

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