Visiting villages and sitting down with the community is always an enlightening experience and one that affords time to become educated about local needs. The effort to get to those villages is worth the time, energy and hardship. Long treks across bone rattling roads, dusty, hot walks into the bush, days with no rest stops of refreshments pale when the enthusiastic and warm welcomes greet Project HOPE when we arrive. “Welcome Home” is always the first greeting when I walk into the village. For me, after ten years of annual visits to this part of the world, the sentiment is not taken lightly. Not one granted due to any special status. Simply, a recognition of shared history and affinity. I am called ‘son from far away’ and I am honoured by the reference.
With customary greetings, pleasantries and family updates completed, we quickly turn our attention to sharing news from the village. This discussion has developed over the years into an intimate and forthright conversation. Early in my tenure these visit were formal, stiff and guarded. Much whispering in local dialect and innuendo veiled from my understanding. As my tenure has increased, along with my inclusion in community, this veil has been lifted and those once monitored communications have become full-throated.
I appreciate the direct conversations. They become quite earnest and loud but that signals the speakers comfort with me and treating my presence as normal. It also helps get to the heart of the matter faster. The excitement and at times emotional sharing instructs me and I listen much more than I talk. My village community needs to be heard. They need my attention and they get it.
On the fringes of these village conversations are always orphans, standing at a distance, usually partially hidden, watching. I notice them first but respect their shyness. As they warm to my presence, and wait their turn, once the business of the village is concluded they approach and I have a chance to interact. Most are silent. Most are hurting, especially the ones that have recently lost a mother or father or worse, both. Many are just hanging on to the fringes of the village. No family, no home, no food, no hope. These kids are the reason Project HOPE exists.
On this particular day the village council, mostly widows, have informed me of their critical needs. They have also pointed out that despite many aid flights seen flying overhead, Project HOPE is the only mission that walks into their village to help. I take pride in this observation. We don’t have a budget for planes, vehicles or television commercials but our presence guarantees we are grounded in the fabric of this community as a partner and friend.
We agree that blankets for the cold season are the most critical need we can help with since they cannot be sourced locally. We also agree that continuing to support local conservation farming progress will help them become self-sustaining. With this business concluded my attention turns to one particular orphan who has been studying me intently from behind a tree the whole time.
I introduce myself to him and despite his hesitance he emerges from his hiding spot and spends a little time sharing his story. Through my partner’s translation I learn that his mother recently died leaving him alone and scared. While the village has folded him into their community and our care team is meeting his needs, the hole left by his mother’s death is deep. HIV still hunts in these villages. Its victims suffer and die while their children watch and wonder “will I be next?”
I learn that our community care team has his school fees and basic resources in place so that at least he can continue with some form of normal life despite his status as a ‘double orphan’. The term denotes that both parents have died. He is now part of the circle of orphans that the village will feed and care for. Project HOPE will help finance his school fees and basic needs. My heart breaks as his life is bleak at the moment and his heart is broken.
The photograph I ask to take captures the snapshot of his grief and the cloud his is under. With a few words of encouragement I leave the orphan in the care of the village but will encounter him again on a future trip. I always make it back to these orphans if they survive and with our care team’s help and the support of his village, the hope is that he is able to move beyond this current circumstance and see a brighter future.
With your financial gift to Project HOPE we can continue to serve this orphan and many more like him. Bringing hope in these dire situations through keeping these orphans in school, feeding and clothing them means they have a chance for a future despite their circumstances. My village, just one of many I am a trusted member, will care for this orphan and I will ensure additional funds are available to help. Thank you for considering a gift to bring hope to this village.