Four-year-old Maisa from Brazil was born with a congenital malformation in her legs. Despite being unable to walk, her optimism is infectious, and she has found acceptance and encouragement at her Compassion center.
Maisa loves to watch the birds in the sky. The 4-year-old marvels at how they can fly so high just by flapping their wings.
“If I could fly, I would fly as high as possible until I reached Jesus,” says Maisa. “He lives in heaven, and I’d love to meet him.”
The young girl’s dream of flying makes sense when you understand her reality. Her legs don’t allow her to go very far on her own. Before her mother, Ana, could hold newborn Maisa in her arms, she received the news from the doctors that her daughter’s legs were malformed. At that moment, Ana’s excitement and joy turned to sadness and shock.
“I didn’t want to look at my daughter when I heard she had a deformity,” says Ana. “I refused to hold her on the first day. When I saw my baby’s legs, I cried.”
But when she looked at her baby again, all 18-year-old Ana could see was Maisa’s beautiful smile. Tears fell as she watched her daughter, and Ana realized her little girl was a great gift.
The smile that won Ana’s heart became even more beautiful and joyous as she grew. Despite her difficulties and limitations, Maisa grew with the same desire to live like the other children in the neighborhood. Out of innocence or a simple acceptance, young Maisa has never asked why her legs are not the same as those of her friends.
“I wonder about the day when Maisa will question me because she is different from other children. Today she doesn’t care, even though she knows that some things are harder for her than for others. But I believe that her attitude will remain the same as today because she’s a positive and courageous girl,” says Ana.
Without treatment available, doctors say the only solution for Maisa to walk is to amputate her legs and use prosthetics. However, Ana and her family decided it’s not yet time to choose this option, as it would bring a lot of suffering for her daughter, in addition to the cost of the expensive prostheses. They are waiting until Maisa is older before they decide what to do.
For now, crawling remains the easiest way Maisa can move around on her own. Although she watches the children of the neighborhood running and playing in the street, she is rarely able to join them, as their games are not designed for someone like her.
Then she received an amazing gift.
The little girl always saw children from her street wearing uniforms to go to the Lar Evangélico da Criança child development center. The children always seemed happy, and Maisa always asked her mother if she could also attend.
“Maisa really wanted to be part of the center and always talked about it when we were nearby,” says Ana. “So I talked to the volunteers and waited until they had a place for my daughter.”
Unlike the limitations of her home with a concrete floor, at the Compassion center Maisa found a safe place to play and interact with other children. In her classroom, her teachers placed play mats on the floor so that Maisa’s knees don’t hurt when she plays with the children. The volunteers also plan activities that make her feel included and let her interact with all her classmates.
“I love to come to the center,” says Maisa. “Here, I can do what I like the most: playing a lot with my friends. It’s fun here all the time, and I’m so happy when I’m at the center.”
The center seeks to encourage the self-esteem of all children and instill respect for those who are different — something Maisa has not always experienced in the wider community.
“Unfortunately, I have heard many comments about my daughter,” says Ana. “But I ignore everything they say. What matters to me is that no bad comments reach Maisa’s ears. I don’t want them to feel sorry for her, I want her to grow up strong and fight for all her dreams.”
At the center, Maisa is receiving the opportunities to do just that.
The support has been vital, as Maisa’s family experienced tragedy last year.
In late 2019, Ana’s husband was murdered. Ana is pregnant and alone in raising her two young daughters. Ana survives only on the government pension Maisa receives due to her disability and the temporary work Ana does on the pineapple or sugar cane plantations in the region.
The challenging situation felt overwhelming and Ana went into depression and no longer wanted to live.
“When my husband died, I felt that I was alone, and I no longer wanted to keep going,” says Ana. “But it was the smile of my daughters that made me have the strength to get up.”
She takes comfort in Maisa’s determination and progress. In the year her daughter has attended the center, her movement and interactions with other children have greatly improved.
“Since my daughter started the center, I can see big changes in her development. There, she learns things that she doesn’t receive at the regular day care center. In the [Compassion] center, the volunteers see each child as a unique child, and yet they don’t treat Maisa differently so that she does not feel inferior or privileged. Whenever she comes home, she talks to me about Jesus.”
At the center, Maisa isn’t pitied, but rather encouraged to dream.
At 4 years of age, Maisa doesn’t yet have big goals. Yet her determination and optimism in life will put her in good stead.
“Even with the deficiency in her legs, I want Maisa to go much further than I did,” says Ana. “For that, I am so grateful to the center, for helping her to dream big, even when she cannot stand up with her own legs. My daughter is special, not because of her limitations, but because of her determination and joy.”
While watching the birds in the sky and imagining flying with them, Maisa dreams of the day that she will also see new landscapes and meet her friend Jesus. Her friend Jesus, however, is already at her side and will support her in all her small steps.