July 8, 2005
The very first time I went to the Ndirande Handicapped Club, I noticed a sad little girl. Her right hand was permanently bent and she was barely able to hold a crayon in it. She did almost everything with her left hand. She also had a misshaped foot and walked with a decided limp. It appeared that she was about 8 years old. I decided that my mission this year would be to try and make her smile. It was a tough assignment.
Each week, in the chaos of craft time, with 50 or more children threading beads onto elastic string, or dripping dye onto paper butterflies, I would seek her out and see if she needed help. Sometimes I just held the paper so it didn’t move while she drew a picture. Other times I would peel the backing off foam stickers, so she could stick them on a sun visor, or I’d make sure she had enough tissue paper to glue on her collage. She never cracked a smile, but she did seem to enjoy the crafts.
I never found out her name. She did not seem to come with a guardian or parent. She was a loner and never played with or talked to the other children. She sat in silence eating her bread and drinking her tea each week.
When we went on the field trip to the Hospital, she climbed into the back of my truck. When we got out of the car, the women strapped their babies to their backs and quickly walked around the hospital to the entrance. It was quite a long walk and they got ahead of her. I noticed, and hung back. As I walked beside her, I got a glimpse of what it is like to be disabled here in Malawi. People who were sitting all over the hospital lawns stared at her. They did not furtively glance at her as she limped along, they stared! It was unnerving. She just kept going. It was painful to watch.
After the hospital visit, I walked back to the car with her. When we got back to Ndirande, she was the last one out of the back of my car. I picked her up and gently put her on the ground. She looked up at me. And she smiled.