On day 3 we visited Elohim Child Development Center. The children welcomed us like celebrities as usual. We had lunch with some of the staff. We also got to see some of the documentation that each child is required to have. One of the staff told us that Compassion children are one of the most documented kids in the world. I believe them. They all get biannual home visits, dental check ups, health check ups, their progress at school is documented and their home life, to some extent. A couple of the kids sang a duet for us. One of the teachers actually wrote the song and it was beautiful. The song’s been stuck in my head for a while.
After lunch we went to visit some of the homes at the “cemetery.” The staff explained that about 200 families live in the public cemetery because they have no where else to live. Eleven sponsored children live in the cemetery and we got to visit five of their homes. We broke up into groups of four and the house that I visited was actually on the way to the cemetery. The father had built a house made of tarp and scraps of this and that. Him and his family lived there for the past seven years. SEVEN YEARS!
The oldest was sick in bed with fever when we visited. The little boy’s hand was blasted off while playing with firecrackers, the mother died giving birth to twins three years ago, and the grandmother who was taking care of the kids died last year. Now the father, who sometimes has work, looks after the kids and tries to survive. The girl in the middle is the sponsored child. While we were visited a local “official” came by wanting to know what we were doing there. The Compassion staff worker explained and he quickly left us alone but apparently, he’d been pressuring the man to leave as his “home” was illegal. We sprayed some insect repellant in the house before we left and man, the bugs started coming out from every little crack in the house (we were outside after we sprayed.) A cockroach 1 inch long stumbled out. Mosquitoes and flies were flying everywhere and kept coming out. (It wasn’t really a surprise because when we were in the house, the bugs were everywhere.) We prayed with the father and the kids. This was the poorest house I set my foot in.
Afterwards, we went inside the cemetery to wait for the other groups. We saw a lot of this:
Houses built on top of tombs. Lots and lots of them. See them on the lower right side? And also under the houses? If you look closely, you will also see a rooster under the blue tarp, sitting on top of a wall. Apparently, cock fighting is rampant there and even poor people buy and raise these roosters either in hopes of raising some money or because they are addicted to gambling.
Well, needless to say, this scene is one of the most depressing ever. I can’t even imagine sleeping there one night yet living there. And on this day, God gave us one of the most memorable events of the whole trip.
K, one of the co-leaders, had made a connection with one of the little girls who lived there, her name was Princess. He said that when he first stepped into her house with the team, she seemed really shy and quiet. But as the visit continued, she just warmed up to him (he has a way of doing that with kids) and she held his hand and wouldn’t leave his side. K said that the family situation seemed a bit fishy.. the dad wasn’t the real dad, etc.. Anyway, we were getting ready to leave and Princess tried to get on the bus with us. Of course, she couldn’t come and had to get off the bus. She ran around the bus, trying to look for K and K was trying to wave good-bye to her too. As the bus took off, Princess just ran after us. She couldn’t have been more than 8 years old. She was running after this huge bus in her flip-flops, tears streaming down her face. She ran and ran until we got to the church (we weren’t going that fast) and she caught up with the bus. We had to make a turn onto the bigger road and she kept running after us until we couldn’t see her anymore.
I have no idea what Princess’s situation is like but I had to wonder, what would make a little girl reach out to a stranger like that? Did K symbolize hope in her hopeless world? Was she looking for a father figure? I have no idea but all I know is that I will never forget her face and the image of this little girl chasing after a bus, tear streaming down her face. Desperate, perhaps, to hold on to the glimmer of hope she saw that day.