Child Headed Households

Rain pours down tonight. I sit with my laptop on the bed under a mosquito net. Being under a mosquito net can feel a bit surreal to me, kind of like I’m in a cloud…the rain is so strong, pounding on the ground 2 feet away on the other side of concrete and an open, screened window. I shudder. I’m sure if I was in it the rain would drench me completely in less than 10 seconds. Instead, I am ‘in a cloud on the other side of rain’.

I’m thinking about the children I met today, 4 different families all without parents, all with older siblings or relatives caring for younger ones, all living in rural areas in grass and mud huts. I was taken inside a few of the huts today to have a look around. I remember looking up and seeing sunlight streaming through one roof made of branches and dried grass…I’m thinking about the rain that may be falling on the children right now.

I gave my hoodie away today, to a little boy…I thought I could hear an Angel say give him your top, so I took it off me and put it on him. It was very easy to do. He almost smiled. I could feel his grief and sorrow, especially when I hugged him to my side and rubbed his back as he leaned on me. I think he is named ‘Morning’…I think the story goes that he was born in the morning. His Mom and Dad died a few years ago. He owns one t-shirt and a pair of shorts both ripped, and now, of course, a hoodie. He lives around 50k from Mbale, somewhere way out along pretty serious, narrow 4×4 roads ( the land cruiser was up on it’s side a couple times ) with his 2 sisters (I think.) It’s hard sometimes to understand who lives with who when you’re ‘out there’… there are always so many children that seem to come out of the bushes when a muzungu is around, especially in the rural areas where we are sighted more infrequently. ( Sometimes I laugh to imagine children sending out a ‘muzungu alert’ that ripples across compounds…)

Some of the children were initially quite afraid today, I bet some had not seen a white one for a very long time, if ever. Children usually come running from everywhere, full speed, very excited, but when they get up close, when they see ‘the whites’ ( or green ) of my eyes and really take in how light I am, some of them can get very scared. Someone will usually come forward bravely and shake my hand or reach a pointed finger out and quickly touch my skin before rapidly retracting their arm … I smile and joke with them, they relax and laugh, maybe I take a picture and then show them a photo of themselves ( many African children I have met would agree…what a great invention…the large screen on the back of the digital camera…) … eventually fear is over come, defenses go down and they are ready to play! Amazing, great teachers they are… despite all outward circumstances, children are all very much the same wherever I go…so ready to smile and play, to be care free and express joy, except maybe when they have seen and felt so much in their few years that has scared them, like I would guess Morning may have.

Usually by the time I am leaving from a visit at a compound, the children are all following me to the vehicle and I am turning around every now and then and chasing them back for a few feet….over and over till we run out of room and there’s nothing left to do but climb in the open door and say good bye. Sometimes like today, a group of children will run fast as they can alongside the truck as we drive away, until they can’t anymore…smiles, waves…’gooooodbyeeee’.

So, 4 families…The first…Mom and Dad’s graves lie to the side of the compound, with a brother’s grave in between. Baby was 3 months old when Mom died. Baby feels safe to stay in the doorway and look out from there today.


Older brother is here too, I’ve lifted him into the vehicle where he sits, happy like any little boy might be in the front seat of a truck, eating a banana I have handed him. Auntie is away from the compound right now. I am told she tries to do what she can for the children, keeping them in food. Grandmother is here visiting today. She says, ‘Do not let me deceive you, it is really their Auntie who does for them…I am old, I don’t do much’. ‘Today you are here’ I say ‘I am sure just by being here you are a great strength for Auntie and the children’. She and I hold hands for a moment through the open truck window as we drive off.

The second…Here, older sister, twin with a brother, takes care of the 3 siblings her junior. Mom and Dad died a few years ago. The children were left an acre of land and the huts upon it. Their relatives help them with food. They ‘dig’ and sell vegetables when things get tough. Twin brother makes ‘bricks for homes’ with a friend. He tries to sell them. She, twin brother and younger teenage sister had to leave school because of fees. The 2 youngest are still in free primary school. She wishes to take classes in sewing and buy a machine so that she can bring the skill and earning potential home to create a better life for them all…she can also teach the others if she learns herself. They have all been HIV tested. They are all ‘negative’.( I count 26 children from the neighborhood who have gathered around us.) She is 20 years old. Many in her community pressure her to be married. She says no, she has to take care of the little ones.

The third…Now I meet a family of 4 children. Mom and Dad have died some years ago, Grandmother is here, she is quite blind. Older sisters both carry babies, I think one or both of these young mothers may be HIV+? Here is brother, the only boy, he is in Senior 3 ( Grade10 ) a year younger than my oldest nephew in Canada. He speaks for them all. Yes, he explains, it is very tough, he feels great responsibility, there is much to worry about and scare him. Eventually I ask him about his friends, does he like to play, what do they do together? Yes, he lightens up, they like to play ‘football’…he smiles…ahh, just like my nephew, I say, he likes to play sports with his friends too. He looks happy to imagine that they are the same. Younger sister is kneeling beside me as I sit in a chair that has been brought for me. I am rubbing her back, she is moving closer and closer to me as I speak with her brother. Eventually when I ask her to speak to me she tells me in a very quiet voice ‘…friend I have no uniform…they run me home…’. Thankfully I have the correct change of 10,000 Ugandan shillings in my wallet ( that’s about $7 Cdn ) that will pay a tailor to make her a uniform for school. Her brother and her are smiling, waving as we drive away. Before leaving, I have reminded them both that they are very loved…their parents are very proud of them, they are always with them right inside their hearts. I am nodding to him and his young sister, he is mouthing the words to me ‘We will not give up’ … all this as we drive away.

The fourth…I am to meet ‘Morning’ here, that is after his older sister finds him and calls him out from where he has hidden since our truck has driven up. Grandmother sits near him, she is drunk on 300 shillings (.20) someone gave her today. I don’t learn many other details about this family, I am taken with Morning, his fear, his deep grief, his gentle and trembling Spirit…it is all I can do to try and wrap him in some kind of comfort, protection and Love.

Tonight I am praying…please help me to know what to do…please help me to do it…

It’s a pretty great night for a huge rain, or, I remember, maybe not if I lived in a hut.

Goodnight Children, We Love You,
Cath

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