I occasionally helped out at the Casa del Refugiado in El Paso, Texas. A shelter of the Annunciation House hospitality network, it was one of several sites where we provide short-term accommodations to migrants and help them make travel arrangements for where they will be going in the States. Once a Turkish woman stayed at the Casa del Refugiado for several days, hoping to be reunited with family members. It was difficult for her because she did not speak English and had to communicate with the volunteers through Google Translate.
One evening, the woman came up to me and showed me her phone. Her sister-in-law had been released from the detention center and brought to the airport – she was on her way to Casa del Refugiado. Shortly afterwards, a communication came that she had arrived. I took the woman to the entrance and when she saw her sister-in-law, she was ecstatic. Their reunion reminded me how alone and afraid migrants are, especially when separated from family members during the journey. It was wonderful to see them reunited.
W e are often taught profound truths by small, innocent children. One day, as I busily prepared to travel to the capital city, Santiago, which was a three-hour train ride from my mission site in Chile, unexpectedly a very young neighbor stopped by to visit me. Marcella was three years old and wanted me to paint her finger nails with clear nail polish.
At the moment she asked, I was cleaning the kitchen, so she patiently waited before asking a second time. At that point I was packing my clothes, and when I finished, she asked again. I responded that I first had to get ready for the trip.
Totally oblivious of what I had promised, I approached the door to leave when Marcella patiently asked again. At that moment, I stopped, focused on my little guest and sat down to fulfil her request.
As I left for the train station, I realized how this small child had taught me something about prayer. She trusted me and made her request patiently several times, knowing that I cared for her and would be faithful to my promise.
I look upon Diana as a precious grandchild, and I am very sure that she looks upon me as a beloved grandfather. You know how grandparents delight in their grandchildren and sometimes spoil them. She would come frequently to see me in Shinyanga, Tanzania, to ask for help to buy shoes, clothes, school notebooks, etc. I helped her buy a bed, mattress, sheets and towels so she could board at our grade school for four months to prepare for the government entrance exam to get into high school.
We met when she was a bit younger and I helped her through a prolonged illness. She spent months in Kolondoto Hospital and had to return several times for follow-up. Her mother is dirt poor, has five children of whom Diana is the oldest, and no true husband to help support them. Her mother would give me gifts of rice and corn from their crops. In return, she asked for help to buy a trolley cart for hauling harvest from their fields and barrels of water from the river. The cart cost $75; her gifts amounted to maybe $5, but that was an even exchange as far as I was concerned.
W hen children lose their parents, it is often a grandmother who assumes responsibility for raising them. This is hard enough when the children have no health issues or special needs. But taking care of an HIV-positive child involves supervising their daily medicine, as well as monthly doctor appointments. Tanzania has no welfare system, foster care program or food stamps to assist these grandmothers. They depend on relatives, friends and the grace of God to make ends meet.
Uzima Centre in Mwanza, Tanzania, where I serve as a lay missioner, tries to lighten the burden. We provide beans, high protein flour and soap each month. We also help with medical bills and school expenses. Little Agnes was 4 years old when her grandmother registered her with Uzima Centre. Thanks to the loving care of this grandmother, Agnes is now a happy second-grader. We assist 48 children and 32 teenagers who are HIV-positive. Our goal is to enable each of them to reach their fullest potential.
Featured Image: A mother and children attend Mass in Tanzania. (Sean Sprague/Tanzania)