“Who sleeps in this room?” our little breakfast visitor asked with intense curiosity.
“That’s where Elliott and Raegan sleep,” I said, smiling at her sweet toothless grin. This was probably question number one hundred since she had come in less than thirty minutes prior.
“They both sleep in here? Just the two of them?” She seemed puzzled.
“Yep,” I said, not sure where the confusion was coming in.
“Then why are there two mattresses?”
All that morning I tried to see through her little eyes and then—bam—another question that caught me off guard. In her mind she couldn’t grasp the excessiveness of two separate beds for two children. For a moment I flashed back to when I told Richard we really needed to get their beds built soon so they weren’t “just on mattresses on the floor”. Perspective.
I still haven’t been in her house, but judging by the size of less than 400 square feet and the fact that she has 7 siblings, I’d say there’s quite a bit of bed sharing happening.
Little Mariclene (pronounced “Mar-ee-ClAYnee”) first showed up at our house about a month ago now with a little bowl, asking for some dish soap. After giving her that, she was back within 15 minutes asking for farinha, a local food that serves as a belly-filler more or less. I didn’t have any but I did give her some beans and rice. Soon she was back for some oil. And so our relationship began.
I didn’t know her story at the time, but soon I would, and my heart has been broken for this little girl ever since.
Just a few minutes after the mattress conversation, she was staring wide-eyed into our shower.
“Is that a shower?” she asked.
“It is,” I said, waiting.
Later that day I gave her a shower. One would have thought I took her to Disney World. I had to be careful not to scrub her head because her scalp is so raw from the skin infection caused by the lice.
When I asked when was the last time she took a shower, she just shrugged her little shoulders. She was all giggles and smiles with the water pouring down and bubbles swirling down the drain.
My heart hurt.
Next were the teeth.
“Do you have a toothbrush, Marecleine?” It was more of a rhetorical question because I could tell by her rotten teeth that if she did have one, it had never met her teeth.
I got her a toothbrush and her very own toothpaste. She was so excited and ready to brush them right then and there.
I wasn’t ready to see what I saw though. Every single tooth in her mouth was rotten, most of them to the point that they were mere fragments. Her tongue had a fungus. Her gums immediately began to bleed as I softly brushed, explaining to her the importance of brushing twice a day and telling her I would keep her toothbrush at my house for safe keeping—and to make sure it happened.
Next were her little ears that I’m sure haven’t seen a Q-tip in years, if ever.
Over the last month and a half, her story has unfolded.
Her dad is a drunk. Sometimes he walks around the neighborhood in his underwear because he has no idea what he’s doing.
Her mom works all day long, seven days a week. Not to provide for her children, but to buy alcohol.
She has 4 siblings at home, the other three were taken in by neighbors.
Her dad uses up all the water at home, so she never takes a bath.
Her mom never washes her clothes so she wears dirty clothes all the time, often the same clothes for days in a row. Sometimes, she takes her mom’s shirts and twists the twists the straps to fit over her head.
She rarely goes to school and her parents don’t care.
She once stayed with a neighbor down the road for three days in a row. Her mom never even came to look for her.
Her dad sends her to beg for food, but eats it all when she brings it home.
She’s often awake and watching while her parents watch pornography.
She has lice and her teeth are rotten far beyond repair.
She roams around the neighborhood day and night and her parents couldn’t care less.
Looking at her, you would think she had highlights in her hair. It’s just malnutrition.
I thought she was probably four, almost five when I first met her. She’s seven according to neighbors.
She has no idea when her birthday is.
The saddest part is this story can be repeated over and over here in our community.
In fact, Mariclene’s little brother, Frankie, showed up the next day after I had given her a shower, asking if he could have one, too. I told him in a few minutes so he went back to playing. When the time came, I called to him, “Frankie, do you want to take a shower?”
“Yeah!” he said, leaving behind the RC helicopter that he finally got a turn to play with.
What four-year-old boy gives up his turn at a flying toy to take a shower??
A boy that can’t remember the last time he used soap to bathe his body.
Not part of a family but not technically orphans. I don’t know the term for that other than “abandoned”.
The needs here are tremendous. My heart hurts as I think of each of the little needy faces we’ve met already and we’ve lived in this house just over a month.
Right now we are just praying and doing what we can. Teaching these kids, loving them, bathing them when essential, feeding when needed, and setting boundaries when necessary. You get a dozen kids who have never been disciplined a day in their lives together under one roof and you have to have a lot of rules. But they are loving it, rules and all.
God has placed a sweet lady in our lives, Rosa, who has lived in the neighborhood since before it was developed into government housing. She’s a local and knows the kids and their needs and has adopted several herself. We go to her with our questions and ask her advice on giving to these kids. We want to be sure we are being effective and not doing more harm than good. She’s a lifesaver and we love her dearly.
I think she is the only person we have met since we’ve lived here that has never asked us for anything. But not because she doesn’t have any needs. Her list is extensive like the rest. When you ask her about it though, she’ll tell you, “I have Jesus, so I have it all. The rest takes care of itself.”
Lord, give me that faith.
Pray for this community. Pray for us. If I could, I’d take Mariclene and Frankie into my home right now and make them my own in a heartbeat. This town doesn’t have any type of children’s home but there is an overwhelming need for one.
I have no doubt that right now God is orchestrating something to meet that need.
Nixson, Mariclene, and Elliott