The 40-year-old woman warmly welcomed us into her home – an illegal small hut, made of wood and zinc, that was self-built on a small piece of land that was not their own. The interior was surprisingly spacey, airy, and bright, with sunlight streaming in through the front door and a small side window. A few of us opted to remain outside, fearing the hut, which was raised a few feet above the ground on wooden stilts, would collapse under our collective weight. This hut was 1 out of 12 others in the squatter area referred to as “White Sands”.
(In retrospect, we weren’t even supposed to be in this particular hut. There were about 20 of us, working young adults from our church community and the original plan was to bring food supplies and daily necessities for an elderly couple who lived in the hut in front of theirs; but a day before our planned visit, God put her in our path and so we decided to visit her as well – divine intervention I believe, as because of it, we got even more out of the visit than what we came to give. At least that is how I feel.)
6 pairs of innocent eyes looked at us with curiosity as we stepped inside their home. They belonged to the faces of her 6 beautiful young children, who were bright-eyed and obviously smiling at us, even though they seemed a little shy. They were all seated on the plastic mat that covered the wooden floor (their mother too joined them) so we got down and walked on our knees, shaking their hands and saying “Hi” to all of them as we also sat down. (We were from the same race and spoke the same language so communication was not a problem.) The eldest child there was a teenage girl, and she was holding her youngest sibling, a 10-months-old baby girl!
I sat next to the teen and asked for permission before I carried her baby sister in my arms. The baby didn’t have a shirt on and she had rashes around her neck because of the heat. She was pretty light to carry and a few of us took turns carrying her – until she cried, at which point we promptly returned her to the sister.
Questions upon questions kept popping into my head, as I tried to understand what I was seeing with my own eyes. We learned that the woman (the mother) had been unemployed for the past 2 months after her last contract finished so here she was, staying in a squatter area, raising these kids on her own as a single mom. How did they come to be here?
I got extremely curious especially about the ages of the children. Apart from the teenage daughter, most seemed to be around 10 years old and below. Since I was seated closest to the teen, I decided to engage her in conversation as their mother was talking with some others in our group.
Me: “So you’re the eldest?”
Teen: “No, I’m the second.”
Me: “Oh, where is the eldest?”
Teen: “She’s married and went with her husband.”
Me: “How old is she? And how old are you?”
Teen: “She is 18. I am 17.”
We tried to find out more about the older sister but it appears they have lost touch. She did not know where their older sister was.
I pointed to her younger brother sitting across from me. “And he is the third?”
“No, the third is disabled [mentally]…” she replied and pointed to the wall behind her, where no sooner had she said so, someone punched the wall behind her a few times.
BAM. BAM. BAM.
“That’s him”, she said, affirming his presence from behind the wall. (He was most likely in the kitchen area. A little later, he did walk past part of the kitchen that was visible from where I sat.)
“And how old is he?”
Once again, I looked to her younger brother sitting across from me. “So next is you, right? And how old are you?”
“10”, he replied happily.
Then I looked to the little girl seated to my right, who was leaning against her mother.
“And after him is her?” I asked their mother. “How old is she?”
“6, I think”, said the mother. “I need to check their card. I can’t quite remember.”
“And next is these two?” I asked, referring to another two little girls seated near her. They seemed about the same age so I couldn’t tell who was older. One had been holding on tightly to a plastic bag with a chocolate bar inside that was given to her by one of us. The other had a pacifier in her mouth.
“She’s 4 and she’s 3,” the mother pointed them out respectively.
“And the youngest is 10 months old.” I mentally listed them in my head. “10 months, 3, 4, 6, 10, 11, 17, 18 years old. 8 Children! Oh. My. Goodness.”
And these children – NONE of them go to school!!! Even the 17-year-old had stopped schooling to help look after the younger ones.
I find myself holding back tears as I pondered the future of these children. Flashbacks to when I was their age only made it worse. Education is important. Without it, how will the fate of this family turn around for the better?
Why are they not in school? Apart from financial reasons, apparently their mother did not have an identity card – it was as if she was a foreigner in her own country – making it difficult for her children to go to school too. Fortunately, on the day before we arrived, she had just received her identity card and applied for the government’s help for a proper house. Hopefully, things get better for this family in the near future. Including education for the children. Especially when they have been told to vacate the squatter area within this few months.
Soon it was time to leave, so we prayed together with the family before bidding goodbye. I gave their mother a hug as we left and she was visibly sobbing… I had tears in my eyes. It was with a heavy heart that we left them. I felt there was so many things I wanted to do to help that family. It was overwhelming, to say the least, and I cannot stop thinking about them.
Once again, I come to realise, that when giving and helping others in need, and by it bringing Christ to them and changing their lives (even if in a only very small way), without realising it, our lives too are changed by these encounters.
Abba Father, I know you are watching over that family. Please look after them. I take comfort in your words…
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”(Matthew 6:26)