Why Our Angels?
A large part of our mission at Uryadi's Village is to change the heartbreaking situations that so many children live in. We strive every single day to save as many lives as possible through intervention and education. But there is also a reality to this work that is difficult to speak about, and even harder to handle when it happens right in front of your eyes. There have been children who have come into our care at a point when all we could do for them was hold them, help them bear their pain, and let them know that they were not alone and that they were loved beyond question as they left this life behind. For these, the ones we could not save, we want to provide a place to honor their lives, to keep their memory alive, and to make sure that their stories are known. Each and every one of these children changed us and taught us in profound ways, and have made our commitment to this work even stronger. We want them to know they were beautiful, they were loved, and we will never forget them.
In February 2015, we traveled to Ethiopia to continue working towards the goal of groundbreaking for Wolayta Village in November. Henok, the director of our orphanage, asked if we would be willing to visit another orphanage in the neighboring town of Shashemane. This orphanage had been without funding for some time when we got there, and what we found there was heartbreaking. Most of the children were in moderate condition, at best, but one little 8 year old boy named Mamush was in particularly bad shape. Besides being so skinny that it was difficult to look at him, Mamush had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and we were told that he also had several other unidentified syndromes. Because of the lack of education available for the nannies and other caregivers, there was a general consensus that Mamush was “absent” mentally, and as a result of his diseases and this belief, he had spent the last four years of his life in a crib. He was paralyzed from the waist down, and his legs were literally knotted and twisted up into uselessness. He was never taken outside, and was treated as if he were mentally non-existent. We want to emphasize that this was not due to a lack of caring on the part of Mamush’s nannies and those responsible for him. They were utterly without the resources to feed this little boy, and did not have access to accurate medical information to help them know how to care for him. Despite being told that Mamush was incapable of communication or even basic cognition, I spent some time talking to him, holding his hand, and just being with him. To my amazement, Mamush began to respond to my presence in ways that indicated he was very aware I was there. He started making eye contact, and squeezing my hand back in response. My heart was wrung for this boy who had suffered so much in his young life, and I knew we needed to help him and the other children. Because at that time Uryadi’s Village lacked the funding necessary to take care of these children, we spoke with another non-profit about taking responsibility for them. We left Ethiopia with the belief that all of them would be cared for and that Mamush would be getting much improved care.
In July of 2015, we went back to Ethiopia, expecting to find those children and Mamush in better circumstances than we had found them. The terrible truth was that they had not been cared for. Their situation when we returned was worse than it had been, as impossible as that sounds. The children were still suffering from severe malnutrition, and now had scabies and mange. Mamush, because of the nature of his diseases, was unable to move himself around and so had developed open bed sores that were constantly covered with flies and infected as a result. I knew, without a doubt, that we had to do whatever we could to help this little boy, and the other children in that orphanage. We started by buying as much food and all the medical supplies we could get our hands on, and arranging to have all the children transferred into our care. We had Mamush hospitalized at the Soddo Christian Hospital which is an excellent hospital. The diagnosis was not good. We were told that Mamush was well beyond the point of being able to make a recovery from all that he had suffered, and that the best thing we could do for him at this point was to make the rest of his life as peaceful, comfortable, and full of love as possible. All of us were committed to doing that for Mamush. We hired a one on one hospice nurse to care for him, and made sure that he would get the best care possible for the remainder of his life.
When we returned to Ethiopia in November 2015, Mamush was benefiting from the care he was receiving. Although we knew it wasn’t possible for him to recover from all that he had gone through, he was clearly more at peace. His movements were calmer, and he was being well cared for in a clean, loving environment. His nurse took him outside regularly, and he was receiving food and the physical touch and interaction that he had been lacking for so long. It was clear to me when I looked into his eyes that he was more comfortable and at peace than I had ever seen him to be. This brave, beautiful boy who lived more than half his life in near isolation and starvation came to hold a very special place in my heart. When he passed away on December 2, 2015, we at Uryadi’s Village knew that we could not allow his life to be forgotten. The future clinic at Wolayta Village will be named the Mamush Memorial Medical Center in honor of Mamush’s life. Mamush’s story is all too common in Ethiopia. The only reason that Mamush wasn’t able to recover was because of the lack of funding at his orphanage for food, education, and medical care. We were unable to save Mamush, but his memory can live on in the beautiful, nurturing home we have created for children like him at Wolayta Village, and in our hearts as a reminder that there are children out there who can still be saved.
Helen's story is a short but profoundly sad story. She came to us as a newborn after being abandoned in Soddo. We do not know why she was abandoned, but when she came to us, she was struggling with basics such as being able to suck on the bottle. This could indicate that she never really had a chance to learn that reflexive action, something most newborns learn quickly if they have a reasonable chance to nurse. Helen fought to eat, but had trouble gaining weight due to her inability to "latch on" to the nipple of the bottle. She also had some severe stomach and digestive tract complications, all of which combined was more than her tiny body could handle. She lived to be less than three months old, despite the best food, love, and care that we could give her. We will always remember her.
During one of our trips to Soddo, we were introduced to Terekegne. Upon first meeting him, I could not have guess that he was a 12 year old boy. He was so malnourished he weighed 36 lbs., and he could barely move. He was sitting in the grass, alone and scared. I knelt next to him and greeted him in hiw own language, Wolitinya. I saw the hint of a smile when he heard this “farengi”(foreigners or white people) attempting to speak his language. His uncle was with him and told us that his parents had died and that his Grandma had been caring for him but that she could no longer care for him and although she loved him, she had not able to keep him from starving, due to complications from a heart condition Terekegne suffered from. I spoke with him, through an interpreter, and explained who we were and what we do and that we would love to be his new “family” and to take care of him. He spoke in a whisper as he literally had no energy to spare, but he agreed to go with us. He was too weak to walk, so we carried him to Soddo Christian Hospital to start treatment immediately. Terekegne spent just over 2 weeks in the malnutrition unit and gained almost 7 pounds during that. We all spent a lot of time with him in the hospital. My children Hunter and Catherine taught him to play cards. We brought him a drawing pad and some colored pencils and discovered what an intelligent, talented artist he was. He had been so depressed he quit eating, but now with new friends and a new “family”, his spirit came alive! When the time came for us to leave Soddo, we made sure Terekegne had a one on one nanny to care for him and make sure he had every opportunity to regain his strength and health, as well as having someone to spend time with and connect with. We left full of hope, expecting to hear that he had recovered enough to make the move to our care center.
It was only a couple of weeks later that we got the news that Terekegne had not survived a bout of pneumonia that his emaciated body just couldn’t defeat. The heartbreak we all experienced when he passed was excruciating. Each of us who met him fell in love quickly with this strong yet gentle soul, he changed all who met him in such a short period of time. He embraced this strange group of “farenge’s” who were all of a sudden his caregivers. He asked questions, he understood why he was with us, and he was so brave in embracing what would have scared so many. We shared some beautiful times in the hospital with him, drawing, playing cards, laughing, taking selfies ☺ Its hard to explain Terekegne, other than to say he was truly a gift…. His smile could light up a room. Terekegne seemed to know that he was not meant to be on this earth for much longer. He was wise that way ☺ During his last days, he chose a bible verse to be read at his funeral, and asked if his body could be brought back to his village and his Grandma. During the last week of his life, Terekegne was not alone. Dr. Michelle of Soddo Christian Hospital did everything that could be done for him, made sure he was comfortable, that he knew he was loved, and never alone.
Terekegne's sponsor was closely following his situation, and stepped up above and beyond the call of duty to make sure our sweet boy had the recognition and send off that he deserved. His coffin was lovely and covered in his favorite color cloth, and sister Amarech and Tenay rented a van and drove his body 90 KM back to his village. And here is where this very sad story takes a happy turn, one that warms my heart! When the van pulled up to the trailhead that lead to his village, his ENTIRE village was there to greet his body! As Sister Amarech and Tenay learned, Terekegnes village was 3km straight up a mountain. The villagers and his extended family had come to bring him HOME! I know Terekegne was smiling down from heaven as he watched ALL the people who had obviously loved him come down to bring him home. We want to make sure that Terekegne's life in particular reaches as many hearts as possible. He was such a gift to everyone who met him, and telling his story honors his life in infinite ways.
Abigail’s story is also a short, sad one. When infants are abandoned at birth, it’s actually quite a miracle for them to survive, and we are so grateful for all the babies we care for who have lived through the horror of being left. There is no way to know why Abigail or any of our other children were abandoned, but for Abigail, the complications and physical problems that came as a result were more than she could overcome. She came to us with a stomach blockage which required surgery, which was performed as soon as possible by Dr. Michelle at Soddo Christian Hospital. As this newborn baby girl fought to survive, Dr. Michelle was with her and held her, but unfortunately, her tiny body was unable to heal. Abigail left this life held, loved, and safe. She only lived to be a few weeks old, but she will never be forgotten.
Janni came to us as a three month old infant, after her mother was unable to care for her any longer. Janni seemed strong and healthy, and at first, she appeared to be doing okay, despite being heartbroken over the separation from her mother. We held her, snuggled her, and did our best to let her know she was loved and would not be left alone again. Sometimes, when babies are separated from their mothers in the early stages of infancy, they develop problems with feeding. Janni developed these kinds of problems, and despite our best efforts, she struggled to nurse from a bottle. In her weakened state, she was unable to fight off a bug that was going around a couple of months after she came to us, and Janni passed away. We are beyond sad to have to say good-bye to this baby girl, she brought so much life and joy in her short time here. She will be missed, and she will forever be loved.
Amidst all of the wonderful things happening here at the Village, some weeks have been some of the most heartbreaking challenges of my life. Early one Monday morning I got the call that there was a tiny newborn baby girl in very rough shape on the road, where she was found after having spent the night exposed in a rain storm. We rushed her to Soddo Christian Hospital where the amazing Dr. Michelle was waiting for her. As she arrived at the hospital her heart stopped, but Dr Michelle and her wonderful team brought her back. I named our sweet baby girl Michelle in honor of my dear friend and this great doctor. For 5 nights our team held vigil at the hospital, and Dr Michelle and her team did everything (and more) to try to save this precious life. I sat with baby Michelle daily rubbing her tiny foot and fell deeply in love with this baby girl. On the 6th morning, after a very tough night (where my great and giving friend Todd stayed with her from midnight to 6am so I could sleep next door), baby Michelle could no longer fight this fight. As she was snuggled in my arms, holding my finger, and as I kissed her head and told her how very loved she was, with Mike also rubbing her sweet little head, and Dr Michelle and Amarech giving her loving touch, our beautiful baby Michelle passed from this life. I thought my heart would shatter on the spot.
Michelle came to us from a place of abandonment, but she spent more of her short life being intensely loved and cared for than not, a privilege for all of us who knew her. She will never be forgotten.