Doing Our Job

I am sitting in the office at Neema House, hearing the getting-ready-for-nap pandemonium take place right outside the fabric partition that serves to pseudo-seclude me from the crowd of sleepy toddlers. A few minutes ago I led a grieving family on a tour of Neema House. Their wife/daughter/sister died four days ago, giving birth to her third child, Joshua. They found Neema House through a friend who knew about us and said we were a good place. We are honored by that, a good place to bring your child, newborn to the world, and turn and walk back home empty handed. The husband, father to a new son, newly a widow, is visibly grieving. He has lost his beloved wife, the wife of his choice, not arrangement, a rarity in Masai culture. Today he gives away his son, the last gift from his bride. Neema House, the living, breathing work of many is so honored to be a safe place for such a precious gift. Sometimes this is holy ground.
joshua
joshua and bibi
I struggle with writing blogs because I do not feel like my words can do justice to what is going on here. Don’t get me wrong, not every day at Neema is full of holy sadness. Saturday we said goodbye to Maxine, who was adopted by fantastic, adoring parents. Maxine, the 2 pound baby who almost did not make it through the first months of life, just became the healthy daughter of a Kenyan mother and Scottish father. We celebrated their family, but we also celebrated our part in her life. Neema House, the living, breathing work of many, worked together to save, sustain and flourish life in a tiny baby, abandoned. Everyone was excited. Everyone felt community in the greatness.

A few weeks ago we took Bahati out to see his family in Masai land, a three hour drive into the bush. Bahati’s mom had also died in child birth, and he has been with us ever since he was a few days old. Bahati is now 18 months old. The trip was fantastic. It was a joy to see the village reunite with a child they assumed could not survive without the life-giving milk of a mother. They could not believe how he thrived, with chubby cheeks and a healthy appetite. Soon Bahati will be another success, another start to finish fulfillment of our goals. We plan to follow up with all of our children. We would be naive to believe that just because our little ones have survived the perilous time of infancy, that they are ensured a long and healthy life. The death rate for children under five in Tanzania is 112 in 1000, more than 10. (http://www.who.int/pmnch/activities/countries/tanzania/en/index1.html) There is certainly more work to be done. But for us it is thrilling to be a part of the process, a source of hope in a time of grief. A safe place.
bahati2
bahati
Right as we were leaving Bahati’s village to make the long trip back to Arusha, an elderly grandmother spoke up, a risky move in a culture where women are supposed to keep silent in mixed company. She told us that a week ago twins had been born in the neighboring village. She said, “they have no cow, they have no corn.” In other words, they were starving. It is part of the custom as a Masai mother to eat very little during pregnancy. It is believed that if a pregnant woman eats an egg, her baby will be born with a large tummy, and the mother will die in difficult childbirth. So they make it their goal to eat only enough food to sustain life. The mother had grown twins, while starving herself, delivered her babies, and then had nothing to eat. The equation is simple: no cow, no corn, no breast milk.

The very next day a man from the village who acts as a liaison between Neema House and the Masai community, made the trek to Arusha to pick up a couple of cans of formula. He said he would take the milk to the mama and assess the situation. He called two days later and said the circumstances were dire, both mama and babies were unwell. It was decided that we would go and collect the mom and babies and take them into the hospital in Arusha. Matt made the trip and I met them at the hospital. The mom was completely dry, not a drop of milk for either baby. The babies were listless and dehydrated. I had brought some special food, banana and meat soup. It is a cultural post-delivery delicacy, that the nannies had prepared the second they found out that the mama was coming to the hospital. The mama had difficulty making the long walk between the intake area and the maternal ward. The babies were taken into the neonatal care unit and given formula. They all stayed in the hospital for eight days. We took food to the mama twice per day and her milk slowly started to return. The babies gained a bit of weight and started being a little more lively. The babies are small and have some significant joint deformities. None of the doctors at the hospital had seen anything like it. Babies with the bones of the wrist, fingers, elbows, knees and ankles frozen in flexed position. The mama also came back to life, with big smiles whenever her food was brought.
twins
When they were discharged from the hospital they came to Neema House, and that is where they have stayed. We found out that her husband has run away and that she has three more children. She said that she had the first baby in her home and then traveled for more than an hour to give birth to the second baby. She is eager to go home, but knows that her babies need more help. Right now we are waiting on consults from orthopedic doctors before we make a plan. While they wait I have been able to start doing some therapy with the babies. Their little joints barely move and they cry in pain with each stretch. These babies have really touched my heart, their plight of being disabled in a culture where only the strong survive, has moved me deeply. Having no father to defend them, no source of provision for food. Life here is hard for the strong, but for the weak, it is brutal. The babies may stay at Neema House indefinitely. We will wait to see what the doctor says and what the mother wants. Right now, we are a safe place for mama and babies. We are food and water and gentle touch. We are the hands and feet as best we can for those that come in, and all are welcome.

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11 Comments

  1. Ron and Diana Smetana 08/27/2014 at 9:52 am #

    Kelly and Matt,
    We are so amazed to read about all that you are doing – about what God is doing through you. We are so proud of you for caring and following God’s call. We love you and will be praying for your ministry. So glad your parents can be there for a while!
    Ron and Diana

  2. Miriam Fisk 08/27/2014 at 8:59 pm #

    The joint thing sounds similar to Arthrogryposis, which I only know about because Charles Wesley (LeTourneau grad) has 2 kids with it. They have a blog: http://www.laeliasky.com

    From what I’ve read on their blog, it’s a condition not many US doctors are very aware of or skilled at treating, so I thought I’d mention it in case the docs over there don’t know much about it either.

    • Kelly 09/01/2014 at 1:23 pm #

      Thank you so much for your reply. We went to the pediatrician the next day and that very diagnosis was given.

  3. Donna Cummins 08/27/2014 at 10:01 pm #

    Dear Sweet Kelly I am so moved by your blog. Praise be to God ! It is so amazing to read and hear about the work y’all do for these precious babies and thier families. By serving God y’all make so much difference in so many lives. I’m so very proud to know you. Y’all are always in my prayers. I love you.

  4. Joy Erdman 08/27/2014 at 10:40 pm #

    You made me cry again! This is beautifully written, Kelly! It went straight from your heart to mine. Thank you so much! Our prayers are with you and we are honored to be part of this amazing work of God! May God continue to bless you and provide everything you need to continue helping these precious people! I love you!

  5. MACY WALDNER 08/28/2014 at 11:11 am #

    DEAR KELLY.YOUR WRITING TOUCHED MY HEART. I KNOW YOUR FAMILY IS DOING THERE BEST TO HELP THESE BABIES. I AM PRAYING FOR YOU.

  6. Alexis Wesley 08/28/2014 at 11:51 am #

    Hi, you don’t know me, but I’m an advocate for orphans with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC). I was sent your blog post as it looks like those twins have that condition. I have two children at home with AMC (one adopted and one bio). I’ll just say that giving them therapy with stretches and massage is exactly the right thing to do! Good on you! If you want to connect with me my email is recordsky@gmail.com. You could show me pictures and I could help teach you how to stretch each affected joint by sending back videos of how I do it on my kids. AMC has no cure, but with treatment it can become much better. We strive for functionality! If you were here in the US I would suggest the next step be serial casting, as babies who are serial casted gain a ton of ROM (range of motion) in their joints. This works best in the first year of life and less well later on (my adopted son was two when we started casting and it does make a difference when they’re younger). Serial casting is like having long stretches. AMC is super rare, it affects 1 in 3000 people, so not many orthopedic doctors know a ton about it. Even though I’m in the US (California) I have to travel to get the care my kids need. (For one of my kids we travel to Philadelphia to the AMC experts at Shriners there!)

    These kids are alone, and they need you very much. I hope you can lean on me as a resource.

    ~Alexis

    • Kelly 09/01/2014 at 1:27 pm #

      Alexis,

      So nice to ‘meet’ you, I remember your husband from LeTourneau. We went to our pediatrician here in Arusha and she diagnosed both babies with AMC. Today we went to the orthopedic specialist and he recommended some physiotherapy followed by serial casting. I am actually a occupational therapist and am very familiar with stretching, but would appreciate any recommendations you might have. I am focusing on the knees, elbows, wrist and ankles most at this time. The fingers and thumbs are very involved, but everyone seems to think that is best left for last. Any resources you have would be great.

  7. emily 08/28/2014 at 5:35 pm #

    I could not think of anyone or any family better matched or equipped for what you and your family are doing. I know you don’t always feel that way, but it’s true. Your gifts, abilities, education, and beautiful hearts have prepared you for this. I am proud to know you and call you a friend. We all miss you (seriously, I was crying two days ago because I just needed to talk, and drink coffee, and watch the kids play), but I know you are in the right place and that God is blessing you and these babies, nannies, mommies, and daddies. Praying for you all. Love you!

  8. auntie June 08/31/2014 at 10:57 pm #

    So happy that you are well again!! Praise God our Rophe!! The accounts of the babies and your tremendous work is a Blessing to our whole family……I am speechless at the conditions of these tykes and how they thrive because of your mothering. There just aren’t words Kelly and Matt, I know GOD is being the great Jehovah Jireh. Bless you all and so blessed to help you…..Love to you, Matt and the girls………auntie June, Aurora, Co.

  9. Amy 09/02/2014 at 1:16 am #

    Bless you Sis for your heart that you have let God mold. Please don’t for a minute think that your words don’t tell the full story. Remember the Bible is written over thousands of years, but God reveals so much from a single book! He does the same with your blog updates! He moves our hearts and uses your words to allow us to encourage and stand beside you.
    Thank you (hugs)!!!!