Mponela Trading Center, Malawi … A cold chill rushes over me as they read aloud his name. It doesn’t come because of the cold air of the morning, even though it is on the cool side on this Malawi winter morning. It has nothing to do with the weather. It has everything to do with who he is and his name.
We have come to Mponela early in the morning to distribute large amounts of food and clothing to a large portion of the nearly 6,000 orphans who live in the proximity of this tiny center. The crowd gathers. So many, so many orphans. Yet each child is so well behaved. A few words are spoken. Then they begin calling the names. Each child comes forward to accept a gift of maize flour, Vita meals, and clothing. I feel a rush of pleasure as I think about all the good we are doing for these orphans, most who have lost their parents because of AIDS. It is such a good day. I will soon make the trip back to America, and report the success of the time here.
The Shock of The Name
Then the name – the name that cuts to the core of my being! “Chifuniro Kasalika”. Wait! Wait! I know this name; I know this child. He is not just another faceless name, but a baby I held in my arms, and delighted in watching him learn to walk, run and play around my Mponela “home”. The pain strikes me as I face a real person, a REAL child, the son of Timothy Kasalika. Timothy had always been like a “son” to me. The Malawians have referred to me as “Kasalika’s daughter”, and in their culture, this child standing in front of me would be one of my ”grandchildren”. When Timothy died a couple of months ago, I had not even considered what would happen to Chifuniro. Someone else would take care of him, I must have concluded. That is the way it always is. There is always someone to care for the children. He will not have to Iive the struggle of an orphan. No, not “my” Timothy’s son! But here he is, walking up to me, smiling so big, and thanking me for his ”gifts” of food and clothing.
The tears begin to run down my face, as I realize I have given him so little. His life is so empty. He is so alone. I watch this little boy walk back to his place in the mass of children around me. The pleasure I felt moments ago busts as if it were a fragile bubble, and it carries with it my pride and happiness. A cloud of shame and sadness replaces it. This orphan is not a faceless child in a mass of nameless, sad, scared faces.
That day two months ago when I wrapped Timothy in my “chitinji” (a wrap the women wear), and they closed the lid of his coffin I had said, “This is my last act of love and compassion for you, my son.” I was wrong. Now his son is putting an equally personal face to the nearly two million orphans of Malawi. As I watch him the loneliness seems to radiate from his very being. There seems to no longer be the smiling boy inside that I watched for so many years. I watch him. He is not, and they are not nameless, faceless children, but living, breathing, crying, starving children whose lives have been devastated by disease and death.
I am glad for the aid we have been able to bring to this place, but today I realized it is just the beginning. It is just the tip of the iceberg. All over Malawi, and throughout the subSahara the villages are filled with children like Chifuniro. Today looking into the eyes of this tiny, lonely boy I realize the massive job that awaits us.
By Suzi Stephens