We had a baby boy born at the hospital last night. Thankfully, he and his mother are physically quite well. He is 8.5 pounds, which is absolutely enormous for here. She is 17 and physically strong. But her social and spiritual situation is awful. She is the oldest of 10 kids. Her dad ran around and brought HIV home to his wife. He died a year ago. Until he got sick, he had a job, and a few of his kids (boys) were sent to our school here (the local people can send their kids for a small fee). After the father died, the mother came and told us that she couldn't pay anymore. Two boys who wanted to stay here now live in our children's home under sponsorship. Then the mother died, also of AIDS, about three months ago. This 17 year old girl was then also was accepted into the children's home. But a couple of days later, during routine medical screening, we discovered she was pregnant. No one knows who the father is. We just don't have a way to keep a girl with a baby in the children's home. It's a different category and level of care. How can she go to school with a baby? Where can the baby sleep? etc. etc. A job was found for her in the village, basically as a nanny for a man whose wife ran away and left him with 3 small children. He actually seems to be pretty good to her. He sent his sister to be with her at the birth, and even came from his job far away when he heard the baby was coming, which is more than many husbands do. None of her relatives came to support her during the birth. It's sad how adultery is just seen as "normal" here, but if a woman has a baby out of wedlock, she is an outcast.
She's in a pretty desperate state. She was absolutely terrified during the labor and delivery. Joi and an American PA student, Jana, were there with her. She insisted on leaving the hospital only an hour after she gave birth. She had a tear that she refused to allow the nurse to suture. She doesn't have a clue how to feed and take care of the baby. She seems afraid to even touch him. She is going to need a lot of encouragement and teaching and TLC. Obviously, her employer, though a good guy, is a 25-year-old man with a job and he isn't equipped to give her all the help she needs. Joi and Jana are going to see her at her house today. And they will go regularly. We are considering offering her a job here at City of Hope, so that she can be near her little brothers—good for her and good for them. This is going to be an uphill battle. Many babies in this situation die.
We had another similar case in January. She was a 16-year-old prostitute, also an orphan. Her baby died when he was ten days old. Then the villagers (where she was living in a village about an hour's drive away) proceeded to march her around the village and flog her—literally. And call her murderer. She wasn't, she was just sick, with no one helping her, and she didn't know how to take care of her baby. Then they threw her in jail. That’s when we found out about it. By the time we found her in jail, she had been there 2 or 3 days and was septic and on the verge of death from a uterine infection. Her family told us to leave her alone and let her die because she had brought them shame. She almost did die. The nursing staff put her on IV antibiotics and nursed her back to health. She was then given a job here. But after a few weeks she wanted to leave again. I hear she's back with her grandmother now and doing OK. But unfortunately she's likely to slide back into prostitution. She also seems to have some mental health issues, based on some things I am told that she was saying, though she never really talked directly to me. She just smiled and acted like everything was fine.
In both of these situations, it's hard to even know where to start. And this kind of stuff is totally common. These girls need much more than technological medical care. At this point they are actually both physically pretty healthy. Even a gospel presentation is not enough. They need the gospel lived out in their midst. I must admit, that's easier said than done.
I tell you this to give you an idea of what kinds of things we are up against here. We have to be preaching the gospel, making disciples, and changing the culture if we are ever going to make a dent in all the suffering. Bringing up a whole generation of kids steeped in the gospel in the children's home will hopefully make a difference. We can already see that they are learning to think and act differently from the community. But most days, this whole thing seems like one enormous uphill battle.
Please note, though I use the pronouns “we” and “our” above, I deserve little to no credit for helping these girls with anything beyond their physical needs. The local Tanzanian Christian leaders with whom we work did all that. I use the words “we” and “our” out of a spirit of cooperation and unity. But don’t give me any credit. I’m not the one who went and rescued that girl from certain death in jail. I am very proud to be associated with the men who did.
Please pray for these girls. Imagine if your daughter or sister was in this kind of situation. I really can’t bear to imagine it. They really need hope. We try to help them discover real hope in the immeasurable restorative power of Christ. Still, you can see why there are challenges.