Little Milcah folds herself in half, her auntie tells me. She shouldn’t be able to rest like this, but the two-year-old is fast asleep with her head lying on her feet. Her limp body is completely folded over as she lies across her auntie’s lap.
It might look cute for a moment – or for yoga devotees – but Milcah resting with her chest on her knees makes me look for what else is wrong with her body. And there are problems to be found. Not only does Milcah have HIV, but she has too much fluid in the passages of her brain, building up pressure that compresses the brain tissue. Her spinal column was not formed all the way, and Milcah has no strength in her legs. She will probably never walk.
To add to this sad story, Milcah’s mother died just two days ago. Her mother had been very sick for several months, in and out of the hospital with tuberculosis. She was wasting away from her HIV and her TB, and she could not care for Milcah.
Every day in Kenya, I see women who stand in the gap for children. Every day, I see women nurturing children who are not their biological children.
“My sister was so, so sick,” explains the tall, broad-shouldered aunt sitting in front of me in a dress of brown and cream-colored lace, with Milcah in her lap in a yoga pose and a white, frothy dress. “She was so sick, and so I took them into my home and I took care of them. And I will care for the girl.”
And I believe this auntie will. She understands the little girl’s medicines for HIV and for seizures. She expresses interest in physical therapy and getting her to a neurosurgeon. She is loving and kind in her interactions with her niece, and I watch them make each other smile. This is an auntie undaunted, an auntie who will take care. This is an auntie committed to carrying this child for the journey ahead.
Throughout my clinic day, these women who stand in the gap bring in their children. Grandmothers raising half-a-dozen grandchildren. Aunties who take care of the children of their sisters and brothers. Even neighbors who are making sure that children get their medicines every day or have enough food to eat.
They are not perfect, these caregivers. We do see things go wrong, especially when there is not enough money and not enough food and too many children.
But every single day, I see these everyday heroes doing so much that is right: Opening the doors of their homes and hearts and taking in children without hesitation.
When I stop and consider the generosity of these women — instead of just checking the box on yet another clinic form to indicate that this is an auntie or a grandmother bringing a child in for care, supervising a child’s medicines – I am blessed by this. I am amazed at these everyday examples of radical hospitality, of helping in the midst of brokenness, of women standing in the gap for children.