I can’t imagine giving up one of my children because I can’t afford to feed them. To me it’s an unthinkable thing. I would never pass my children to a total stranger to care for them. Never.
I’ve looked into the faces of children who don’t know where their parents are, or brothers and sisters. They only know that mom and dad had to go away and work to get out of debt, and they can’t go too. I’ve seen them cry and hang their heads down over their chest. I’ve seen their faces go hard as stone as they remember the details. I know what this does to children. I would NEVER do that to my child.
But I have also never faced starvation. I have never scraped the bottom of a pot to get one last scrap and known that that is the very last thing my children or I will eat until we find a way to buy more food. I’ve never scavenged vegetables at the side of the road because I have to, because there is nothing else.
I would never… because I have never… But what would I do, if I were her?
What could I do? Wouldn’t I ask myself that every single moments of every single day? Wouldn’t I try everything, everything I could possibly think of? Wouldn’t I use every resource at my disposal, every tool?
I look into the faces of brave, courageous women who are doing that, every day. Women who fight to change the tide, to hold on for one more day, to keep going in the face of such difficulty. I see what they do. They do laundry by hand in buckets, determined that what little their family does have to wear will be clean. They cook delicious food over open fires, using vegetables I’ve never even heard of that grow wild in a nearby ditch. They wipe noses and they scold and they take sick babies to the doctor and THEY DON’T GIVE UP! They smile when they greet me, offering a cold drink as I sit on their floor, a miracle in a hot little village that has no electricity. They are mothers. WE are mothers. They touch my growing belly and ask how many months I have left to go, grinning if the baby kicks.
I talked once with a women had just sent her 18 month old son thousands of miles away to stay with his grandmother, because her husband wants her to work again. He says they can’t afford to feed three mouths, and support the aging grandmother, on his meager single salary. Her face twisted as she spoke, the usual smile missing, and her arms were so empty looking as she sat forlorn on her doorstep in the silence that spoke only of absence. I’d never seen her without her baby in her arms or at her feet before that day. We sat together, silent, because there was nothing to say and many things to feel.
I got in my car, and I drove to my house, where my children all ran to greet me. I was surrounded by hugs, and cries of “Mommy, look at this!”
We went inside and I dug around in my full fridge to figure out what to cook for dinner. I am angry, knowing that if only she too could keep her home stocked with food she would have still been holding her baby tonight, the baby she loves just as fiercely as I love mine.
How does one get comfortable with that knowledge?
I hope I never do.
I hope that I will have the endurance to keep going, holding hands with my friends and fellow mothers working to keep their babies, helping their families stay together, helping their children have the justice they deserve, to grow up in a family that loves them.
I hope I never stop working to make it so that simply being poor is never a reason for a family to separate, and fall apart, for a mother’s aching arms to be empty, and a baby cry himself to sleep in a strange new place for the first time without his mama.
I hope you can’t get comfortable with it either. I hope it makes you angry too. I hope, in this season of giving, of looking for ways to bring joy and delight to the faces of the children you love, that you can’t forget that there are children who have families, but sleep alone, because they were unlucky enough to be born poor. I hope as you kiss a child’s head and tuck them in for the night, and one last story, that you can’t help but think about the women and men who lie alone in the dark wondering if anyone is tucking their baby in for the night, if he’s hungry, if he’s scared, counting down the days until their work pays off and they can be reunited once again.
I hope it burns into your heart until you need to take action, until you need to do something to help us change this.
It is not always easy. It is complicated and difficult work, and progress can be slow.
It’s possible to change things. It’s possible to come together as families make a way.
I wish you could see the persistence.
I wish you could understand the resourcefulness, the wisdom and knowledge to do so much with so little.
I wish you could see the pleasure on one mother’s face when she gives her daughter her first ever birthday party, with a tiny little beautiful cake, because she’s making enough money now from the store she started with a business loan that something like this is now possible.
I wish you could see that face of a young mother as she introduces her son to me for that first time. She has put together enough money to go and get him back, to bring him home again. I wish you could see his face as he looks up at her.
I wish you could see the level of sacrifice and dedication these parents are capable of on behalf of their kids. Then maybe you would understand that we are the same. We are parents. We fight for our kids. Sometimes we need help to keep fighting and win.
Wouldn’t you want someone to help you fight to keep your family together when things go wrong?
Wouldn’t you want someone to help you bring your children home?
Families matter. Without the protection of a family, children, the most vulnerable among us, are left with no protection.
Join our fight to keep families together today. With your parents will have the hope and help they need to protect their children.
Please give today.
Carrien is co-founder of The Charis Project, Family Education Curriculum Developer, and mom of 6.
You can get her free mini-course on Making Your Family More Resilient here.