Tiny Tabitha turned her face resolutely against the harsh night wind, braving again a long walk through uncertain darkness in Limuru, Kenya. It was time to eat, and hunger made the 10PM blackness seem less daunting for the 4 year-old Kikuyu girl.
Having waited all day for her poor mother to arrive home with food, desperation had set in, and Tabitha was left to fend for herself. She did not have any recollection of better days past; fighting for her basic needs had been the reality of her short life. Born into a long line of fatherless children, like a hopeless spark destined never to light a fire, she had not spoken the word “Daddy” before.
Daily she looked upward at the hem of her mother’s handmade dress, hoping some greater good would come down from the one who loved her. But her destitute mom, now sadly aware of her own mortality due to the recent abrupt words of the doctor, “HIV positive”, had herself passed gradually to adulthood without ever knowing a father, a chance, or any true hope.
Hers was not a well from which Tabitha could draw strength. Tabitha’s mom and her sisters seemed like failures to their mother, Tabitha’s grandmother, who had raised the three daughters only to watch them never go to school nor amount to much.
Generational fatherlessness, a lack of education, and a hopeless cycle of poverty figured to be the threads that would continue to weave the fabric of little Tabitha’s life. Tabitha’s two siblings, ages 10 and 12, wandered the streets aimlessly each day, unschooled and rudderless. As far back as anyone could recall, no member of Tabitha’s family had ever set foot inside of a classroom.
Tabitha, whose name means “gazelle”, had ironically never known what it felt like to run full speed, unhindered, free. Hers had been a journey of snares, limits, and constant struggles that left her forever moving as if in quicksand. Stats had not been on her side from the beginning.
Being a rural girl in Kenya meant she was on the lowest social rung, with a 1 in 2 chance of never going to school. She could not know it yet, but in just 10 short years, she faced a 1 in 8 risk of being a mother herself by age 14. Yet numbers meant nothing to a little girl unable to see where her next meal would come from.
And so brave Tabitha set out hungry into the town of Limuru, not knowing that in the darkest night she would find a door into a new place where she could finally run free.
Grace Ng’ang’a, determined to finish strong in her current term at St. Paul University, sat studying in her apartment near campus when she heard the rap of tiny knuckles on her door. She looked out, surprised to see a small girl waiting in the dark.
“Was this little one alone at 10 at night?” she asked herself as she opened the door to meet Tabitha, who spoke up immediately and asked for something to eat. Grace felt compassion swell in her heart at the sight of such a hopeless, dirty, and disheveled child out wandering, begging for food so late.
Her own past as an orphan, rescued and cared for, came rushing forward in her mind, and she ushered Tabitha in and fed her a hot meal. Over the next few nights the same scenario played out, until she mustered the courage to follow Tabitha home and found the gut-wrenching poverty, the horrible daily reality of her living conditions, which she described as the worst she had ever seen.
Grace also served as a part-time housemother at Naomi’s Village Children’s Home, 45 minutes away in Maai Mahiu. Since Tabitha had a living mom, Grace knew she would not meet NV criteria as a total orphan, and thus would likely not be a candidate for inclusion in the home.
But her heartstrings had been tugged by the terrible sight of this child’s hopeless poverty, so she asked anyway. What followed was a month long struggle amongst senior management at NV. The social worker and nurse visited Tabitha’s home and came back visibly shaken at the things they saw, but the rest of the team felt it would be unwise to admit children from single parent homes.
Grace prayed and advocated for Tabitha, knowing in her heart she needed to find the love and care she had seen other children get at NV. Compassion triumphed over rules, and Tabitha’s mother thankfully surrendered her to our care in April 2013, seeing the chance for her girl to escape the cycle of pain and lack so common to her family’s history.
Six short months raced by like days, and Tabitha now moves freely and gracefully through a wide-open childhood, living up to the meaning of her pretty name. The arc of her life has gone from a flat line to a limitless rising ascent.
She speaks English already, loves being a student at Cornerstone, has grown in physical stature and confidence, and carries herself with the assurance of one headed to the top. Tabitha often charms Aunt Julie with her rendition of “Jesus Loves The Little Children”, her sweet voice across the lunch table making an ordinary meal into a special event. Grace cried on Tabitha’s arrival day at NV and has marveled with us at her transformation ever since.
Our NV kids love to Skype with their sponsors, because talking to the ones who directly provide for their new life without limits reminds them that they are loved and special. We might underestimate the positive value of the call for the donor, were it not for the constant stream of nice notes we get afterwards from those who talked to their child.
The following passage comes from an email we just got from Christina, a sweet soul who sponsors Tabitha. I feel she sums up what Tabitha has become to us so perfectly, and yet I could not have found these words myself.
Yes, it was wonderful! I showed her the bright red, orange and yellow trees of fall and the leftover snow in the yards from earlier in the week. She told me she is 4 years old and I expected the first Skype to be surprising to her…looking in a box and seeing a real person talking to you. I told her how beautiful she is and I liked her hair. She said she remembered me, and that made my day. I showed her a picture of her and Soni and she smiled.
I had joybells ringing on the inside of me all day and leftover joybells every day after that. Thank you so much! Just let me know when we are allowed to do it again!
Yes indeed, Christina…leftover joybells ring inside of us every time we see her as well. And now we know what to call them. Thank you for that.
Little Tabitha, once a struggler hidden on the fringe, destined to live a hardscrabble life unmarked by joy, now runs fast, loves freely, enjoys extra daddies, goes to a great school called Cornerstone, and brings joy to others.
Only a real Author could write that storyline.
To learn more about what you can do to help, or how to get involved please visit Naomi’s Village
Read more empowering stories from Naomi’s Village, Left Out in the Cold
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