The absence of love
Published June 01, 2012 12:00
Godsgift was sitting in a little chair on the porch of a nice concrete house, nice according to Liberian standards. Concrete and freshly whitewashed, it had a porch and some sort of nice floor covering inside. I noticed a big case of bottles that said Monrovia Brewery on the side and coolers and an ice chest inside the house. I knew it must be a party house.
Back to little Godsgift. His mother, not mentally stable, did not breastfeed him as a baby. He became severely malnourished and sick. Two-year-old Godsgift stays with his auntie. Marcus, our medicine program director, asked her some questions about the boy as we sat on the porch. She told Godsgift to stand. When he stayed sitting, she demanded, “Stand up!” She turned to us and said, “When I talk to him, he can do it if he tries hard.” She forced him to stand, but his spindly legs could not hold him. He started to cry. Finally the aunt gave him a stick to hold on to, but still he could not stand alone. He was too weak. Finally she helped him grab hold of the cooler beside his chair, and he stood that way. Marcus told her to please let him sit down.
This entire time, little Godsgift was crying, heart wrenching cries that came from deep inside his little body. And then something else happened. I was horrified with what I saw. I looked away and then looked again to make sure it was true. Blood was coming out of the corners of his little mouth.
“Marcus,” I said, “look, he’s bleeding.”
He saw it too. “So why the boy bleeding?” he asked the auntie.
“That sore caused that. Sore in his stomach.”
She dug an old bottle of some sort from a nearby table and poured some of the substance into the cap and gave it to Godsgift. Then she took his oversized green shirt and wiped the blood from the corners of his mouth. Every once in a while Godsgift would lift a filthy hand to his running nose and try to wipe it. But he smeared it all up. It was a mess.
Eventually the auntie left after Marcus told her how to prepare the Herbalife nutritional milk he had brought for Godsgift. We stayed there on the porch for a while longer and then I went over to the little boy and sat on the same cooler he had been holding on to earlier. I held out my hand, and Godsgift grabbed hold of my little finger.
Finally I pulled my hand away, and we left, but when I walked away in that sandy Liberian soil I couldn’t pull my heart away and I still can’t. I came home and kept thinking about Godsgift while I ate my lunch of cold rice and potato greens, and then Dorothy, our orphan program director’s wife, stopped by my office. I told her about Godsgift.
Dorothy said, “You know, Gloria, it’s not the first time there’s been a very malnourished child in that community.”
“I know,” I said. We looked at each other and without saying a word, we both knew exactly what the other was thinking. It’s been over a year now that a malnourished baby had died because someone failed to properly care for him. Someone had not given him the milk that Christian Aid Ministries supplied.
But this is another child, another time. And maybe his auntie will give him the Herbalife and he will get better. I hope so. But even if the little fellow gets Herbalife, it won’t heal him completely. It might heal his body, but it won’t heal the part of him that is crying out for something more than nutritional milk. Something called love.
Herbalife might give him a spark in his eyes and some fat on his little skinny bones. But it won’t deafen his ears to abusive language, it won’t stop him from trying to do things his auntie tells him to do, because the alternative—emotional and verbal abuse—is worse than the pain of obeying even if it makes him cry until blood comes from the corners of his mouth.
And that’s the image I can’t shake from my memory. When I close my eyes, I can still see it. Red blood coming from the corners of a little boy’s mouth. The image won’t leave my mind; it haunts me tonight and makes me cry.
Please pray with me for Godsgift, a little boy on Marshall Road in Liberia, West Africa.
by Gloria Miller, CAM staff member in Liberia
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