It all began one random day, we just arrived to the school in Cazuca. We had our hands full of food and school supplies we brought for the day’s activities. Then, our Coordinator arrived with a baby in her arms and three more ladies alongside her. We greeted them like normal assuming the baby was from one of the ladies that were present. However, we started to hear the baby had been left to the care of Erica, a young lady with mental disability caused by excessive drug abuse from a young age and who was at present working as a sex worker in the area. As the alarms started to rise within, I started to ask more direct questions and Erica was quite open to share, both about her life and the life of the mother of the baby in her care.
The story was heartbreaking. This precious baby was 8 months old and was very underweight for his age. He was extremely hungry, with no nappies for the day, inappropriate clothing and no blanket. He had some deep scratches on his nose that were obviously recent and some scars on his cheeks from some similar hurt in the past. It was incredibly lucky that we had our volunteer doctor with us on that day who thoroughly checked the baby and said this baby´s sores on his nose were an animal bite. All the other ladies immediate knew it was rat´s bites. Apparently, it is common in this area to have rats in your bed during the night. They pray on unattended babies because they can´t move or escape. My heart broke in a way that it hasn´t ever before. One thing is to know about these things in a newspaper, another is to hold in your own arms a precious baby that was experiencing extreme neglect.
What were we supposed to do? A million things were crossing my head. Should we call the police? Or the department of family well-being? As I was thinking what to do Erica was telling me how this mum had nowhere to stay, and she was drinking all day leaving not only this baby but her two-year-old daughter to the care of anyone who would offer. She said the mum doesn’t feed her children and leaves them unattended where ever she is staying and people see her during the nights in the local pubs drinking and offering herself to men. These are all stories that we are not sure to be true, yet this baby shows the reflection of something like this happening at his home.
After we feed the baby with a bottle Erica suddenly says she needs to leave to get something, and she takes the baby with her. We watch her leaving thinking we should stop her and do something, but friends, you need to understand we are in a land run by different laws. We are the outcast here, and we have no protection. Not only that, we can put at risk the lives of all the people we are currently working with, so our steps need to be cautious. As she leaves, we start thinking of a plan to find these children and bring them to safety.
Our search begun
I took two ladies of the area and started walking the muddy streets, up and down hill. We asked people who knew the mother and the children and went to every possible place people said they could be. They were nowhere to be found.
Days passed and I repeated the search through the streets at least 8 times. I got to know the neighbourhood so well and walked in places I thought I would not go unless with a big escort. These days were so heavy. Sleepless nights and arguments with God about these children. I got to the point of feeling so heavily burdened that I prayed thinking God didn´t want me to feel this way. All the training for Case Work in Australia came to my mind and made me think that maybe I was getting “too involved” and I was experiencing “vicarious trauma” for getting emotionally involved with the problem of “my clients”. I thought I needed to disconnect from it because it was affecting my whole life. Yet what I heard from God was completely the opposite! He clearly spoke to my heart in an almost audible voice and said “unless it hurts you, you won´t do anything about it.” Then it came to mind the lives of the prophets who vividly carried God´s message that culminated in Jesus! They all lived and hurt with the problems and sins God cared about. I was so wrong to think that this journey was going to be painless.
Every day I went to Cazuca I would do a search through different streets and would visit the same houses people pointed to us from the beginning. Until finally one day, I was walking back to the school, after probably our longest walk feeling defeated, so mentally and emotionally exhausted when we saw the mum of the children standing on the street. She tried to turn and pretend she didn´t see us. She knew we were looking for her after all the times we passed the same street asking for her name. We approached her and she had her baby boy with her. He was sleeping in a room with speakers the size of a big luggage bag playing music as loud as it could. I had to cover my ears when I got in, and when I saw Camilo, the baby boy I had to contain myself, so I would not cry. I was so excited and scared at the same time.
We were able to talk to the mother who was very hesitant about our intentions and that was completely understandable. Yet, she and her friend had some drugs next to the bed where the baby was sleeping. We managed to convince the mother to take the baby to our school for a proper chat and so she would know our program, our intentions and our capacity to help. She listened to us and saw us interacting with our other kids from the program. We fed the baby, clothed him with fresh clean clothes, changed his nappy and gave the mum some to take with her. We could see she was confused so we didn´t push. We knew where to find her now. We wanted the children to stay with us.
We had mums that were already willing to care for them even long term. I have to say, this grew my admiration and awe of the generosity and heart of the people of this area. These mothers who willingly offered to care for these children sometimes don´t have enough to feed their own children and much less space in their houses as any of us could. Yet they were so worried and willing to help. Matt and I knew we could not take a baby with us unless we were given the custody, or we could be charged with kidnapping and brought to jail straight away, but honestly, we were doubtful at the beginning If this would be something we would be willing to do. It took us a few days to say yes, and these ladies said it in no time at all.
The mother then came the next day and left both children in our care. The two-year-old was very sick, she came with very high fever and we were not able to control it with medication. We had to take this little girl to the doctor and that was an adventure in itself. Remember, there is no medical centres, hospitals or even proper transport in this area. Finally, we got her to the doctor and were told she had a chest infection. She was injected medication and was given some more to take home.
After a few more days the mother spoke to us and said she will leave the children with us. We have been caring for them though our coordinator Esperanza, whose children are already adults and for whom her motherly heart was reawakened. We still don´t know what will happen. We don´t have the custody of these children yet. We don´t even know if we will ever get it. Yet, we do know that one step at the time we came here to bring God: His restoration, His safety, His care, His salvation. We are doing this wholeheartedly because these little ones deserve it. They are God´s precious children and we will be accountable for what we did or did not do for them.
After all, we know that love is only love when it is demonstrated in actions.