Her smile, her laughter, and her deep, brown eyes. That is the essence of Ruthie.
I have followed With Change In Mind since before it was an organization. I knew that someday I would join one of their projects, and I knew that when it was my trip, I would know it in my belly. So, when the kindergarten project began to take shape, I just knew. The finances came together, the child care, the vacation, the back up at work…all of it fell in place.
When the day came for me to step on a plane and travel out of the country for my first time, I thought that all of those months ago…my belly had betrayed me! What the heck was I doing?!? I couldn’t be away from my family for 2 weeks in another country! The flight was long and gave me plenty of time to think of a thousand reasons why I clearly was crazy to be doing this. I pushed every edge that I possessed.
When I stepped off the plane into the chaotic world that is the Ethiopian airport…I met the rest of the volunteers. The first breath taken where I thought it was going to be okay. Then to Lilongwe where we met up with Erin. Another breath. Slowly I knew that my edges were meant to be pushed.
Then, Erin took us into Chutila where I was blessed to meet Ruthie. A 9-year-old girl…full of life…who also happened to have disabilities. Disabilities that coincidentally are very similar to my grandson’s disabilities back home. I am not a doctor. I couldn’t diagnose what her disabilities are. What I could tell you, is that this beautiful child was happy, pushed through her challenges, and wanted to be with all of the other kids. This moment was when I knew why my belly had brought me here.
Ruthie cannot speak, but she can communicate. It is difficult for her to walk, but she can be mobile. She crawls across the dirt and rocks when she is determined to get somewhere. It is easier and she knows that she can get to where she wants to be quicker and independently. I think that with dedicated attention, she could both speak and walk. When we were able to provide some walking canes for her to try, her face lit up. She walked all over, quickly learning how to pick up the sticks to move them and herself forward.
Typically in a village like this, Ruthie would not have the opportunity to attend school. However, there is a spot for her at Nkhalango ya Mango (Forest of Mangoes Kindergarten). The instructor, Hassan, is eager to teach her…and to help the other kids accept and help her. In just the short time that we were there, we saw the other kids of the community invite her to join the circle of games. We heard her laugh uncontrollably while doing the Hokey Pokey. We saw her clap and put her whole self in…physically and spiritually.
Since being home, I have spoken with my grandson’s therapists to get ideas of activities that can be offered to Ruthie. I have started gathering some tools to send with Erin on her next trip so that Hassan can start working with her, and I have sent him a list of activities that he can do with tools he already has. My heart flutters when he sends updates as to her progress. I love to see the pictures of her smiling…sitting with all of the other kids in class.
My belly was right…I needed to be there. I needed to meet Ruthie…it was meant to be. My family did great while I was gone. I had nothing to worry about. I met new people and gained even more family. I discovered things about myself that I didn’t know existed. When I first left, I thought that I would go once and experience WCIM. However, since leaving Africa…I know that a piece of my heart has been left there, and that I will return.