Friday, January 27, 2012
Before our trip, I reminded the team that it would be such s gift if they each took the time to seek out a quiet, shy child and become his/her friend. Too often it's the gregarious, charming, handsome, articulate, talented children who capture our attention so much that we don't notice those tiptoeing around the edges of our activities. (Tony was actually one of the withdrawn children on my first visit in 2006. He has blossomed so much, in part because of the attention and opportunities CTT has swung his way.)
Suzanne is one who has taken this charge very seriously. Last year she befriended quiet Beatrice (with whom she has a meaningful and unbreakable bond), and this year it was sweet Oliva.
In Suzanne's own beautiful words:
"It’s hard to describe in words exactly how a child captures your heart or takes your breath away when there are so many at SMK that you want to connect with in that special way. Her name is Alari Oliva and she is 10 years old. She is from Northern Uganda and has an older sister; Fiona who, like many of the sibling groups at SMK, has taken on the role of mother to Oliva. Fiona bathes her, watches over her and makes sure she is safe. It’s tender to see and heartbreaking at the same time because I often wonder who is taking care of Fiona.
I spotted Oliva one day in P7 quietly sitting on a desk with her small hands folded in her lap watching the dance performance for Team 5. She had this beautiful brown patterned dress on, and I asked others who she was. No one seemed to know, so I set out to meet her. It was challenging to communicate at first because I did not know Luganda and her English was spotty, but there is the language of a simple touch. I held her hand, and I signed to her that I loved her. She responded with the same, and I knew that we were going to be connected from that moment on. Her hand and mine were intertwined from that day forward until I left. She reminded me so much of myself when I was 10, shy and reserved, existing in the shadows. Often the children from the North keep to themselves at SMK. They go about their chores everyday and you often witness them staying together as a group, because they share some of the same sad stories of parents lost to the war or AIDS.
My goal with Oliva was simply to get her to smile, and a bonus would have been to hear her laugh. I was rewarded tenfold because she gave me so much more. She held my hand. She smiled, giggled, hugged and gave me a piece of herself: her heart. There is no greater gift than that of a child’s love, and I am blessed to have felt that love everyday at SMK with her and so many of the children. I only hope that with the distance we now share from Uganda to Wisconsin that she continues to feel how very much I love her."