Sorry in advance for the long post, this is an important story and one that I could not really shorten. Its worth the read though.
My heart is heavy today, the work of helping, trying to step in and give to those in need-it’s complicated.
It feels like we are shaking a tiny stick at a huge monster, struggling against a beast that will not die.
I wrote a short post here a few days ago about Susena and Tigist, two young girls who live on the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Both are mothers, both live with a constant struggle for the next meal, they live lives defined by desperation and need.
Yet, helping… Trying to bring love and assistance to their needs-it’s eating us alive today.
After learning that Susena’s baby who at 10 months old is only 10 lb. and severely malnourished, we decided that we were going to do our best to help the baby get well. A visit with the local doctor confirmed what we already knew, if this baby was not taken off the streets and given the proper attention fast, he would not live.
And so it was that despite our struggle to help Susena for the past two years with little success, we we would again try to make a difference in her life. We felt that maybe given the situation with her baby and the abuse we learned that she was enduring from the baby’s alcoholic father, this time she might be broken enough to want real change.
Maybe this time, we told ourselves. Maybe…..
We felt that given the gravity of the situation, we should open our home to Susena and her baby. In an unofficial sort of way, we were going to offer that we could adopt both mother and child, bring them in our home and give them the love and support they needed to thrive.
It was going to be messy and complicated, but we were ready.
This story though, it does not end well. Two days ago we met with Susena and talked with her about the offer. She agreed with our terms and seemed excited to make a move for the better with her life. It was decided that the next day, she would move in. “Our house will be your house” We explained to her. “We want to help you to have a new life” After hearing her warm response, we were both excited and a bit apprehensive, we know from experience that Susena is a very wounded girl and she has a fierce independent streak inside her that comes out when she feels trapped.
The next day, at the agreed upon time, I drove to the area where Susena lives, she was supposed to be waiting for me, ready to come to our house. After over an hour of waiting for her and wondering what might have gone wrong, she finally came, but the baby was gone. “My friend has him” She said quickly, before turning heading off down another alley, leaving me to wait again.
Another hour went by before she came back, the baby had been found and she had all her things. “I am ready” She said, smiling. I smiled back and took her small bag from her hand. She started to say goodbye to her friends and I loaded her tiny bag of belongings in the car and held the baby as I waited for her to finish up. I was tired of waiting but thankful that I had finally found her.
It was then that I noticed Tigist, one of Susena’s friends was in pain, she was just a short way from me and was bent over on the hood of a car, moaning. I asked a few other girls who were standing around if there was anything wrong and they explained that Tigist was going into labor. But as I stood there watching her, I could tell that something was not right, she was in too much pain for a normal labor. I stood there, one tiny baby in my arms and contemplated if I wanted to get involved with another. I already knew what I was going to do, but paused, hoping that something would stop this from happening.
“Ok” I said, hesitantly. “Get in the car”
We rushed to the hospital and after a short examination learned that her baby was stuck in an awkward position, and would not come out, and also Tigist was suffering from a massive case of Gential Warts. The Doctor said that the wart condition was the worst he had ever seen, and that if she were to give birth normally, he would be unable to stop the resulting bleeding. He was going to have to take out the baby surgically. “If she had given birth on the street” He said, grabbing my hand to ensure I understood what he was saying. “She would have died. You did a good thing” He said, squeezing tighter. I smiled back at him, thankful to see that God was working through this situation that felt to me more like a train wreck than a miracle.
Nearly 8 hours later, after an emergency C-section, I found myself standing at the hospital holding yet another baby who had been thrown into this crazy world that is the streets of Addis Ababa.
I stood in the dimly lit hospital room, held tight to this precious newborn baby girl while his mother lay on the bed next to us passed out from the surgery, and cried. I don’t quite know why, or what I was feeling, maybe it was the painful struggle that she will likely face in this world, or the frustration I felt over the immensity of the need.
It felt a lot like we tried to crack open the lid to the problem, trying to take out just a small dose of the need, and were instead blasted in the face.
It’s not that we don’t want to try, we are ready and willing to give whatever it takes, to do all that we can for both of these girls and their babies. But as you will hear in the rest of this story, sometimes being willing to help is not enough.
A few hours earlier, just after the four of us arrived at the hospital. (Me, Susena, Tigist and Susena’s baby) I could tell that Susena was going to focus all of her attention on helping Tigist, her baby was left on a blanket in the corner of the room crying, and Susena seemed unaffected. It was as if the screaming baby did not even exist.
I quickly made the decision to call Jessie and see if she would agree to take the baby while the three of us stayed for the operation. She happily agreed and I took the baby on the short drive from the hospital to our house where the baby would stay with Jessie and our kids for the next few hours. This was not really what we had in mind for how Susena and the baby would adjust to coming into our home, but this was an emergency and we had to just make things work.
Shortly after the surgery, things took a dive for the worst. Susena took off, she said she was going to find some friends to tell them about the baby, and that she would be back shorty to come with me to our house. We would finally get to settle her into her new life. But after several hours of waiting and searching for her I realized what had happened.
Susena had abandoned her baby with us.
Something that put us in a horrible situation, legally we had only one option, when morning came, if we could still not find Susena, we would have to her baby to the government orphanage and leave it there. It’s one thing for a mother to move into our home with her baby, but we cannot legally accept a child, all abandonments have to be handled by the government, regardless of the situation. That is the law.
I finally drove home, one of the last cars out on the road, exhausted and drained from the emotionally day and sat on the edge of our bed where Jessie was lying awake, feeding the baby and tried my best to explain the situation we were now in. The truth was, we now had a malnourished baby in our home, a mother who was missing and another mother at the hospital with a newborn baby girl to take care of. All of it more than we had asked for, all of it felt overwhelming. We talked for several minutes, and decided that we would be able to think more clearly in the morning, but between frequent feedings for this baby who was desperate for nourishment and stomaches that were twisted into knots, Jessie and I both slept little that night.
First thing in the morning we decided that it was best for me to go out searching for Susena again, we only had a few hours before we would have to go to the government orphanage with the baby, and we wanted to see if I could find her first. She likely had no idea what we were going to have to do with the baby, and we wanted at least to be able to explain to her what was about to happen.
Before I left I took this picture of Agash (not really sure about the spelling on this name there…) He is a wonderful little baby boy!
After nearly half the day of searching every place that I could possibly look for Susena, I finally found her.
“Where have you been?!” I nearly yelled out just as I saw her. To say that I was frustrated would be an understatement.
“I am busy” She replied simply, her tone revealing her contempt for the responsibility that she bore as a mother.
“You keep the baby, I will come back later” She continued flatly.
I pressed back, explaining to her the legal side of what we had to do with the baby, and detailed again what the offer was that we were giving her.
“We love you and want to help, but you are still going have to be the mother” I said, trying to break through the walls she was putting around her emotions.
We went back and forth for the next hour, me trying to get through to her the severity of the situation and how her baby might end up dead if she did not take action, and her replying that she really did not care about the baby.
“What about adoption?” I asked her. Pressing in to see if she might be willing to take the baby to an agency who would find a family. “No” She replied flatly. “He is my baby”
“Then are you going to do what it takes to get him healthy?” I asked, repeating my assertion that she needed to step up to the challenge.
“The baby is fine” She continued on, still showing little emotion.
Noting I said or did got through, and it became clear that she never intended on putting any effort into making our offer work. The truth was, Susena was just plain unwilling to do anything to make any changes, she just wanted a handout.
Unfortunately in this country there is no government agency that will step in to deem her an unfit mother. So despite our seeing the path she is on, and the harm she is doing to her baby, unless she wants the help, we are simply unable to do anything. She has to make the first step.
After we went round and round the same points in the conversation, Susena took her baby and left. Her attitude fitting of a girl her age, like a teenager running out on a authority, rebelling and choosing independence over responsibility. Unwilling to see the consequences of her actions.
This morning I woke up and again went to the hospital to check on the baby, she was doing good and the doctors said they were ready to discharge Tigist. I paid the $550 hospital bill and two night stay in the hospital room and said goodbye to Tigist. Susena was there at the hospital as well, her baby however was not. “He is with a friend” Was all the information she would offer.
Both girls are heading back out, going on towards an uncertain future, unwilling to accept anything from us beyond a hand out. They both made their intent clear, they want what we will give as long as they can keep their freedom. We will do what we can, but I already know that it will not do much good. We can bring food, we can give them clothes, but real rehabilitation, real lasting change requires that they are willing to do their part.
Before they left I took a picture of the new little baby girl.
I don’t write this post with answers, I am frustrated today. I am crying out to God, asking him to change their hearts, and let us step in and help in this situation, for these babies, for these girls. But I do know one thing that I have learned, one thing that makes me glad for the project we are doing and the help it will bring once we open our doors.
And that is this;
If we do not help these children when they are young, if we do not come in when we have time, it may just be too late and then nothing we can do with help change their future.
Soon we will open the first of the Bring Love In homes here in Addis Ababa, we will take in children from the government orphanage and we will pair them with widows, both will be given a chance at a future, together they will become a family.
I only wish that Susena and Tigist had been given this chance when she were young.
Things would be different.