She walks into the compound with her toddler on her hip. He’s still clean because the day is young and he hasn’t yet managed to wriggle out of his mama’s arms into the dirt. His mama sees the tiniest baby we have and puts him down to scoop her up. “bye!” she says to her toddler as she coos over the tiny one.
He scowls and toddles after her, not pleased sharing his mother’s attention. She laughs and eventually scoops him back up, where he rests content until he’s ready to wriggle back down and begin his day’s exploring.
He wanders around our compound, getting covered in dirt, and entertaining us all. Our social workers call him “freestyle” because he does what he wants, when he wants. One moment the cook is shooing him out of the kitchen, the next the guard is bringing him back to the classroom. Classroom to sandbox to office to bedrooms to kitchen to moms in class to gate to big pile of dirt. But every hour or so you can find him toddling over to the room where his mama sews and he peeks in, making sure she’s still there. She smiles and waves [and usually laughs at his ridiculousness] and he grins big before running off again.
One day mom is sick and spends the day at the clinic. I watch him toddle over to the room where she sews and peek in. The first time she’s not there he scowls. The second time he hits the ground crying and is only made quiet with the bribery of a biscuit. The grins are few that day. The giggles gone. No smiles from our wild man. He can’t figure out where his mama is.
But here’s the thing, at the end of the day she returns and he smiles big and waves his arms in excitement and toddles right back into her arms.
A year ago mom was at the door of an orphanage and was so desperate she was thinking about leaving him. Except it wouldn’t have been for just a day. I think about how that day might have looked. Him looking to the gate, seeing she wasn’t there. Him hitting the ground crying. His grins and giggles disappearing. And at the ends of the day there would be no happy reunion. At the end of the day he would be going to bed alone. And so would she.
Poverty should never be the reason children are raised by orphanages instead of their families. We can do better then that. I say it again and again and I believe it. All our staff at Abide believes it and fight every day to give these families a chance at staying together.
And I think if this little guy could talk he’d tell you he believes it too.