I met Maureen within minutes of arriving in Uganda for the second time. Her tiny little body held in Melissa’s arms under a blanket, as Lynne and I made our way through customs to meet our gracious host and Mama G who arrived a few days before us. It was very late, so I didn’t make much of the fact that she seemed unaffected by the commotion going on around her in the Entebbe airport. As we made our 30 minute journey to Kajjansi I learned, however, that she hadn’t been affected by much of anything in the few weeks that she had been at school. Melissa didn’t exactly know how or why she came to be at SMK, where her parents were, or even if she still had parents, but she did know that she wasn’t thriving. Her movements were labored, her face was expressionless, her appetite nonexistent. As I looked at her sweet face, half asleep on Mel’s shoulder, I fell completely and helplessly in love with her by the end of that car ride.
Over the next few days, we were rarely apart, and if we were, she was being showered with attention from Melissa, or one of her new sisters at school. And slowly, we all started to notice a change in the little girl whose age we can only guess at. She began to eat. (Anything we put in front of her for that matter.) Walking seemed to become less of chore for her. And then, most importantly I think, she smiled. And laughed. And played. And danced. And, in many ways, came alive.
Now, I will admit that our little Maureen has a long way to go. But I am a firm believer that the progress she has made can only be attributed to the time that the people around her have put in to showing her how much she is cared for. I, along with many others who have devoted the resources to visiting our young friends, are often questioned about why we spend the money to visit when we could be putting those funds toward other things. I have often struggled with an answer. Until today. From this day forward, my answer will always be “because of Maureen.”
This tiny little girl has reminded me of the most important gift that CTT gives to the children at SMK—love. It was the theme of this trip it seems, serendipitously marked by the Love Fest where we passed out necklaces with the phrase “I am loved” on them. And they all are. You cannot meet these children without feeling like you are getting far more from them then you will ever be able to return, but I guess that is the case when you really love anyone. As a group of volunteers we can raise money to provide food, school fees, and other daily necessities for the children at SMK—and these things are important. But what we can’t raise with money is a child’s self-esteem, sense of self-worth, and the feeling that someone, somewhere, cares about them. Those things are all acquired by giving away something far more valuable, but that we all have enough to share with everyone we meet.