Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Even My Teddy Bear has a Shirt...

My heart just broke a little bit. I should be getting ready to sleep now, but I'm sitting by candlelight… haunted by the bedtime story I just heard.

Around 8 PM I sent a text to my sister who lives next door saying, "I didn't see you all day, I miss you!" Kabo is one of my favorite people in the village and it's a strange, empty feeling to go a whole day without chatting with her.

A few moments pass and I hear, "Koko!" Kabo comes over with two of the little girls who stay next door and begins telling me about her day. Same ole, same ole. Light conversation. When there is a lull in our discussion of our daily lives, I ask Kabo, "Who is this little girl?"

I've explained before that I have my set of regular children who come and go each day… Gao. Kutlo. Romeo. Ayanda. Kelesego. Maje. Of course, there are others who trickle in and out, but I know their parents, I know which ward they stay in, and I know who they are friends with out of my list of regular children.

But this girl was new. And none of my regulars seemed to know who she was - they simply knew that she was living with them. So after a week of not knowing who this sweet girl was, I heard myself asking Kabo, "Who is this little girl?"

Immediately, I'm told it's a long story. It is 8:30 - that's about my bed time. Bring it on. But I don’t think I was quite ready for the story she told.

Her name is Velmina. This is just a part of her story.

Sweet lil Velmina on the left,
with Kelesego and Romeo.
The mosadi mogolo (old woman) who lives next door to me has a cousin who just had a baby a few months back. Like most women who are working or in school, she's looked for outside help… a nanny to watch her baby. This woman is from the same village as Velmina's family. Velmina's family agreed to let this woman take their child to help watch the baby.

So, last week, mosadi mogolo's cousin brings Velmina, explains that she is trying to finish registering for school and find a house to rent so Velmina has somewhere to watch the baby. And off she goes - - with her baby and without Velmina.

Velmina has been at my house every day. She's free as a bird. There's always a smile on her face. Laughter rings through my house anytime she has stepped foot inside. She's eager to learn. And she's insanely quick to offer a helping hand. She's absolutely precious.

While Kabo explains all this to me, I begin to inquire about why this little girl was chosen. I turn to Velmina and ask her how old she is. "Ga ke itse (I don't know.)" Have you ever been to school? "Nnya, mma. (No.)" I ask her if she has parents in Gantsi, where she is from. Yes, but only her mother. He dad died.

Kabo sees that my heart is breaking and continues explaining that parents who are suffering search to find ways to remedy the situation. In Velmina's case, that meant having a single mother give her daughter over to a woman to be a nanny. This little girl can't be more than 10 years old. At most.

Here she is - sweet little Velmina - running around my house in nothing but her panties, howling with laughter as she tosses my teddy bear around with Kelesego. I learn more. She was brought here with NOTHING. She has one tattered change of clothing and flimsy flip flops. No wash cloth. No soap. No nothing. This girl has absolutely nothing in her name… and nothing but a smile on her face.

Perhaps ignorance is bliss,  but that's not good enough for me. Kabo sees my despair. My guilt for having a blissful childhood and never knowing what it's like to be without… without food, without clothes, without education, without family.

I've decided that I'm going to do what I can to care for this girl who has slipped through the cracks. I'm going to teach her to read and write. I'm going to buy her clothes and toiletries. I'm going to try to get her enrolled in school. The Peace Corps discourages us from spending money on others because it isn't quite sustainable and it sends the wrong impression about Americans and the reason we are here in the first place. I've understood and stuck to that for the most part since I've been here… but I don't have the heart to watch this girl go through life with nothing. I've got to do at least a little bit.

I get a washcloth and soap for Velmina and hand it to her in exchange for my teddy bear who kept her company while Kabo and I talked. Kabo laughs and says, "Whose shirt is that?" pointing to my teddy bear.

"Oh, that's my teddy bear's shirt, " I respond immediately. And then the weight of the whole conversation comes crashing down on me. EVEN MY TEDDY BEAR HAS A SHIRT, while this little girl does not.

Love & Light,

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