This week I returned to St. Francis Nursery School. I used to read there regularly back in 2006 and 2007. I turned the project over to a colleague when I went to the States for a few months. That colleague has now returned to U.K. so I thought I would stop by to see if anyone would like a story or two.
The children were in the yard when I arrived. As I approached through the garden, Teacher Ruthie burst from the door, squealing like a three-year-old and running to greet me.
Unlike the community programs where I usually read, St. Francis is an institution—a home for abandoned babies and children rescued from emergency situations. Most of the children are HIV positive, more than one discarded on a garbage heap by a parent too sick to take care of them. A few are fostered, but keeping the children in an institution is a way of being sure they get the medications they need.
All the children are new since I was last here. The ones I read to have “graduated” to Epworth, a home for school age children about forty-five minutes away. Ruthie and her former colleague Louise go twice a year to visit “their” children, taking presents and spending time, trying to provide some continuity of relationships in the lives of the children.
Ruthie and I sat on the bench in front of the school. “That one was found locked in a shack without food,” she explained. “The neighbors called the police to break down the door when they heard him crying for days. No one knows who his parents are or even his real name.” When he first arrived, she told me, he would crawl into the suspended barrel on the playground and not come out. Now he plays with the other children.
She pointed to a little girl, older than the others. “She has a little brother. We are looking for someplace where they can stay together. Both parents have died. The relatives rejected them because of their status.” She means their HIV status, still a cause of fear and stigma here.
Ruthie is one year away from finishing a BA in early childhood education. She wants to be a government inspector to monitor pre-schools and nursery care. I just hope that doesn’t take her away from direct contact with the children. She has such a big heart.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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