She began again, “All of these babies are orphans. True orphans. No father, no mother. They come to us sometimes in the middle of the night with umbilical cords still attached, naked, filthy from being birthed into a pit latrine hole (usually 20’ deep) and they are left at our gate in plastic bags. Sometimes the person who found them in the latrine has put the newborn in a plastic bag and leaves the child in the road in the middle of the night because they don’t want to be noticed by neighbors. The Sector official gets up in the early morning to see if there are any ‘bags’ on the road, and if so, he brings them to the metal gate. That is how we get most of our children.” Prostitutes, especially child-prostitutes, and over-burdened widows are desperate to get rid of their baby. They feel they have no other way. They are starving themselves. Some of their other children are beggars on the street. They live in the mud huts, they have no hope.
We have only been in this cemented room for a few minutes when I find myself just standing and staring. Then my third shock came to me - in the form of rashes and open sores on the baby’s skin (due to the bacteria and insects in the latrine) and the broken legs of one baby (because of the fall down the deep pit). Orphaned, deformed, and no arms to hold or comfort her pain. Only cold, lifeless metal bars are her world. Our talkative, friendly nun shares with me that this is not uncommon. The fall is too great.
The enormity of what my eyes are seeing and the visualization of that child’s entrance into this world now registers in tears. I thought that men were the tormentors of these people, that they were the ones who had stifled life and dreams and hopes with the Genocide killings in 1994. Maybe that is exactly what they did – and hope is still gone for many Rwandans. I am now listening to this young woman tell me how thousands of mothers choose to dispose of their child and in many cases, the child dies alone in a bag. I slowly look around the room. There’s too many. My eyes and hands fall to the nearest one. I touch his frail fingers. My touch startles him. Did this little one come in a plastic bag only a few months ago? I didn’t know this existed in our world. How is America to know? Will they care? Or is this just another Africa story on poverty?
I don’t remember what was said for the next few minutes as she ushered us into the sunlight, then under an awning where children were sitting down to eat. Now I hear clamor. Laughing and energetic little three to four-year old children who bear smiles and are singing. I make the connection - these nuns nurture and transform lifeless, lost babies that someone thought was refuse into happy, and seemingly healthy, children. God Bless these nuns.
The children are not very clean or not at all well dressed. Must not be enough clothing for the 55 children I count at the long two foot high table – but they are happy. They get to play outside, bang drums, and run around and find some joy in this little prison of theirs. But I saw them. They are there. One hundred and thirty children. They are waiting. They don’t know they are waiting – right now they are a mass of humanity waiting for life to unfold. Like a rose bud. The petals are fragile – but each uniquely beautiful. They are too young for dreams or opinions or even the knowledge of a family. They know caring, yet I don’t think they know love. They only know the hands of the nuns – not the arms of a mother. And there are too few nuns to share arms.
My frozen heart begins to melt as I see God’s presence in their smiles, the nun’s gentleness, and the photos of Jesus on the outdoor brick walls. Jesus loves to shine in the darkest corners of earth. I believe it is His way to show Hope."