Stories and photos By Consodyne Buzabo, Compassion Uganda field communications specialist
An air of anticipation and excitement hung over the Muzahura Child Development Center on the morning of August 26, 2008. While any day at the child development center is always a day the children look forward to each week, this day was going to be extra out of the ordinary.
Special guests were coming to visit. On this day, 13-year-old Mistaff had a mixture of trepidation and expectancy coursing through him. Questions swirled through his mind. “What would they think?” “What do they look like?” “What will I say?”
On this bright and sunny day, Mistaff was waiting to meet his sponsor for the very first time.
Clean and smartly dressed in his uniform provided by Compassion, he waited with the rest of his class, eager and nervous at the same time.
Mistaff was taken in by his widowed aunt ten years ago when his mother died. Without a father actively participating in his life, Mistaff’s only support and family are his aunt and five cousins.
Aunt Perusi is a peasant farmer with no formal education or source of income. She grows enough cassava and beans to feed her family, with a little left over to sell in the weekly market to buy the basic necessities needed at home.
Muzahura is a community with very few educated people, there is no serious business that takes place, and the people are entirely dependent on the growth of maize as a source of income. With the drastic changes in the weather patterns over the last few years, this harvest has been compromised and not forthcoming.
Bringing into the family another mouth to feed in an already dire situation was a challenge Perusi faced. She recalls,
“We were in bad condition. We had no soap, no beddings. We slept on dry banana leaves, had no saucepans, no light to light the house, no money to support or treat or even educate the children.”
With no help to her at all, her family’s health suffered, especially Mistaff’s, whose immune system was very low. He inherited an unidentifiable disease from his father that affected his reproductive system, making him susceptible to urinary tract infections, gastritis and malaria.
The nearest health center is two kilometers away, and with no access route to the main road leading to it, it was nearly impossible to get medical help in emergencies. This hopeless situation would have discouraged anyone but not Perusi. “I had no plan,” he says. “I thought we were going to die with nothing. I just prayed for the mercy of God. He was my only hope.”
In October 2002 her prayers were answered when Mistaff was registered into our child sponsorship program.
Being a part of this program meant that a helping hand had come in to take care of some of Mistaff’s needs, like his education as well as his physical, spiritual and cognitive health. In addition to this, Mistaff is connected to a family far away who are pledging their time and money to support his development.
Before long, Perusi witnessed her nephew’s health improve, as the center workers consistently and diligently came to her rescue and made sure Mistaff received medical attention every time his health failed.
With the added nutritious and supplementary food they provide as well as the particular attention and exercise he gets whenever he visits the center, Mistaff’s immune system has improved so much that he rarely falls sick, and his insatiable personality and penchant for football flourished.
Right before her eyes the little boy with no hope and no opportunities grew into a man with a future.
“One day he will complete his education and become successful,” she says. “He’ll get a job and land and construct a house. I feel happy that his future is secure.”
Mistaff’s family circle increased when Bevan and Tamlyn were introduced into his young life as his sponsors. To Bevan, Mistaff is not just another child on the other side of the world that needs a helping hand; Mistaff is part of Bevan’s growing family.
Regular correspondence between the two families gives Mistaff the nurturing of the father he never had.
“They pray for us, buy his books, clothes and things for the house. And Christmas comes with a gift”, says Perusi of the Russell’s influence in her and Mistaff’s life. “I thank God for them, to bless them, for such a great work. I pray so that GOD may replace where they get everything”.
With the sponsorship received from the Russells, Mistaff — with the guidance of his aunt and the center staff — bought a goat and seedlings to plant beans and maize on a larger scale to have a bit more to sell. Recently, the goat gave birth to two babies that Mistaff proudly says he will rear for sale so that he, too, can contribute to his family’s income.
So when Perusi and Mistaff were told that Bevan was flying from across the world to come and visit them, he had a great deal of excitement and a bit of trepidation. They decorated the entrance of their mud house with brightly colored bougainvillea and yellow and white hibiscus flowers. They also specially picked a bouquet of bougainvillea and hibiscus tied with banana fibers from their garden to present to Bevan. They laid clean and newly dried grass onto the mud floors as a carpet so that they and the extra guests could sit on as they have only a couple of chairs.
And as August 26, 2008 dawned bright and clear, Mistaff waited while Bevan, in his hotel room a few miles away, prepared and prayed for their first meeting. “We have been looking forward to this for a long time,” he says. “My only regret is that my wife is not with me.”
On arrival, the music and dancing of the children and caregivers added a sense of celebration and gaiety to the meeting. Bevan was greeted by all the children in the program, their caregivers and the center staff.
A group of caregivers merrily danced to the car to receive him as he stepped out of it. The dancers were dressed in traditional garb embellished with beads and danced in circles, which symbolizes oneness and unity. The dance and welcome song were accompanied by the rhythmic beat of the drum and the melodic xylophone and flute. The music and dance followed Bevan as he greeted the children. With his back turned, Mistaff quietly walked up to him and waited until he turned around.
“It was actually quite strange when first meeting because while I was chatting with all the other kids, Mistaff came up behind me, and as I turned around he was right there. I actually didn’t recognize him at first, he was a lot taller than I had expected and he was grown up, compared to the photos I had seen I was looking for a smaller boy — it was a really good surprise!!!”
And at that first hug between boy and man a relationship that had started six years before with a letter and a commitment from afar was sealed for a lifetime.
Within no time, Bevan and Mistaff could be seen on the football field playing Mistaff’s favorite sport with some of his classmates, or hunched together in a world of their own, talking.
Their time together was a dream come true for both of them, and Mistaff recalls that although Bevan had promised in previous letters that he prayed for a chance to see him, to Mistaff that was all it was, a prayer.
“I have been longing to see him. Now I can see he is real and my neighbors can see that he is real and my friend. He is a man who keeps promises because he said he would visit one day and now here he is and I am blessed because many children don’t see their sponsors face to face.”
They talked together about each other’s lives, families, Mistaff’s school and education and a mutually favorite game, football. It was with a heart-wrenching goodbye that Bevan left the child development center at the end of that day.
“It was actually quite sad, I didn’t expect it to be as sad as it was as we had only spent a few hours together, but I wasn’t happy saying goodbye. It wasn’t, however, a sad feeling based on leaving them in their current state; it was a feeling of wanting to spend more time with them to get to know them better.
“My day spent with Mistaff has certainly changed my relationship with him, and I place far more value and importance on my correspondence with him and my prayers for him. This meeting has inspired and motivated me to stay faithful with what God has entrusted to me and the part that our church can play in making a significant positive difference in the lives of these children.”
For Mistaff, although the end of the day heralded his friend’s departure his heart was warm, his prayers had been answered. “Now I know who he really is,” he says. “I can see him exactly that he loves me and is concerned about me because he came all this way to see me.”