Rachel’s parents had died of AIDS and that is how she came to live with her only blood relative, an aunt, and her three cousins with a sometimes-present husband.
As the uninvited guest, Rachael was expected to earn her keep by doing chores, fetching water and firewood, and digging in the garden.
This tiny girl was strong and could carry a full jerry can, 40 pounds of water. She slept on bare ground, was the last to eat, and often endured verbal and physical beatings by her drunken guardians. This explained why at age nine she looked like she was six.
Staff at Juna Amagara noticed Rachael and, with the aunt’s permission, invited her to come to school. They found a sponsor to cover school fees which included at least one hot meal a day. “She was sick and undernourished when we found her,” Moureen Kyokusiima, the Director of Child Services commented. “Juna Amagara saved this girl’s life.”
I met Rachael when, in 2010, she needed to be removed from the abusive living environment and we rode in the same van to her new home, an orphanage/school in another village.
I was extremely fascinated by this diminutive munchkin wearing her whole wardrobe, growing wide-eyed at not-oft or ne’er-seen sights like reflective window glass and tiled bathroom facilities at the petrol station. And the petrol station! I’ll not soon forget how she savored each tiny spoonful of the half cup of ice cream bestowed upon her there at that pre-heaven fuel stop.
While waiting for our ‘taxi’ (van) I pulled out a pen and two sheets of paper and began to draw in an effort to gain the trust of this wordless child. I drew a stick figure of her and wrote her name beside it, drew a sunset scene and taught her tic tac toe.
It was when I drew a dog that she spoke up, “It is a pig.” A smile broke through. After more writing and drawing she pronounced, “It is a book.”
The next morning when our team visited her at The Children’s Home, she produced ‘the book,’ in which she had practiced writing her numbers earlier that morning.
I knew that the childhood stolen from Rachael was being re-discovered when this shy not-comfortable-looking-you-in-the-eye Cinderella broke into dance right before my very eyes.
Rachael gives the conclusion of the matter in this video, in an understatement of monumental proportion:
“My life at Juna Amagara, it is good.”
Blessings upon the not-so-diminutive savor-er of life. And ice cream.
Connie Hoogeveen 2012