Mariam was 21 months old when she died. Severely malnourished, her immune system low, the malaria she caught in hospital was too much for her tiny body. Amy and Forever Angels had supported her for 2 weeks in hospital, ensuring despite the strikes that she was fed and received her medication. Selina, one of Amy’s Mamas, despite having children of her own, stayed in the hospital the entire time so she was never alone. At one point she was able to go home to Forever Angels and it was hoped that with all the care and attention she received she would pull through. When I went with Amy to the hospital to bring her home she seemed to have improved and was no longer vomiting, although she still weighed absolutely nothing when I held her. But she died two days later, the starvation she had experienced had made her too weak to fight.
Mariam was the little girl that Amy and I had found in the hospital a few weeks ago.
Mariam’s Mother had been discharged from hospital back to her village some weeks before – bizzarrely this happens when someone is dying. When Amy found her to tell her her child had died, she was in a queue for her medication at the nearest hospital, a 5 hour walk away. Amy writes a description of what happened from that point and I ask you to check out the Forever Angels blog http://foreverangelsdiary.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2012-08-16T16:22:00%2B03:00&max-results=20&start=3&by-date=false – my understanding is that there was very little love or support from Mama Mariam’s neighbours due to her illness – some of the dukas won’t sell her food due to fear of contamination – and the funeral was cold and brief.
In contrast the memorial service held at the Baby Home was beautiful. Everyone attended – Mamas, Askaris, volunteers. The Mamas’ singing was hauntingly lovely and whilst I’m not a religious person I did hope that somewhere Mariam could hear it and know that she was missed. Selina was devastated and it was hard to imagine how she must have felt, nursing her all that time in hospital only to lose her.
The over-riding feeling I often have here in Tanzania is one of powerlessness. I witness people dying from starvation and treatable diseases; I listen to stories from Amy and the other amazing women who work here about frustrating processes and rules that are in place that mean people aren’t seen and saved in time and it can be quite overwhelming. But I wanted to do something to help Mama Mariam, however small.
Amy invited me to visit Mama Mariam with her – she was taking food and charcoal and wanted to see what other support she could provide or buy for her. So we went one afternoon, myself, Amy, Hassan an Askari and Lillian the Assistant Manager at Forever Angels.
Amy pointed out the hospital Mama Mariam had to walk to for her medication.
“Now see how long it takes us to drive” – It took nearly 1 hour by car.
I had understood from Amy that the conditions Mama Mariam and her family lived in were shocking but nothing in my own experience could have possibly prepared me.
There were holes in the roof, in the walls, the door had gone. Split into 2 there was an area for sleeping about 6ft by 4ft and the same for cooking and storing food, although the family had nothing to store. So bad was the condition of her house the family had moved into a similar size hut with Mama Mariam’s brother – this meant 10 people sleeping in an area that matched the size of my bathroom. As I sat with Amy, Lillian and Mama Mariam inside the hut, squatting on pieces of thin dirty foam that served as mattresses it wasn’t just the obvious poverty that moved me. As she held my hand, allowing me into her home and laughing and welcoming her new rafiki, I had to wonder at the incredible strength of this tiny, beautiful woman. Shunned by her community (who still came over to sit outside the hut and hear what the mzungus were doing here) she still shared biscuits Amy had given to her with the neighbours’ children. She was still hopeful, despite her dilapidated house and with such a large family to support.
A lot of work happened that afternoon – the walls were fixed…
The roof was mended…
…and even a new door was fashioned from nearby trees, corrugated iron and the rusty nails from the old one
(I’d be lying if I said Hassan’s hunter-gathery building prowess was lost upon those of us lucky to witness it)
… we went to the local market and mattresses and blankets were bought, bowls, buckets, kerosene lamps…
What struck me during that afternoon was how little was needed to set up a home for a family. When everything is pared down to just basic needs, what simple things can mean the difference between surviving or not, and how little those things costs.
The plan is to build a house for Mama Mariam and her family. Rainy season is coming and despite its temporary fixing her home will not survive it.
I felt privileged to be part of this experience, despite mainly being a not-so-handyman observer and there was a comfort knowing that something was being done for Mariam’s mother and family. It was also interesting to see how far-reaching Amy’s work is – it’s not only providing a home for abandoned and orphaned children but also trying to ensure that families in the community are supported so that they are not left feeling the only option is to leave their children.
So this post is dedicated to all the amazing women that I’ve been meeting whilst I’m out here – the Amys, the Selinas, the Mamas, the Mama Mariams and a myriad of other women whose strength and determination I can only wonder at and admire as they work to make a difference for their family and those around them.
A little aside: It cost just £150 pounds for the initial set up for Mama Mariam and her family – the new home will be only £300. Ridiculous isn’t it. With figures like those you can’t help but wonder why anyone would be in such a situation. I have donated some money towards the outreach work written about above. If you’d like to do the same here is the link