As I look back at some writing I did in my personal journal pre- Africa, I found myself writing about being in love with these children and people of Africa before we ever met. I wondered if it was, in fact possible, to love someone you have never met?
Well, it is.
Patricia is a woman. She is 13 years old, in P7 (primary 7), and has been given a life not many of us-if any-could handle. She is considered an orphan, her parents taken by HIV/AIDS and she is suppossed to be taken care of by her grandparents. Both of her grandparents are very sick and away at a clinic or hospital, they may never return back to her.
Patricia lives in the dorm (cement building falling apart with mats on the cold floor sleeping next to her friends) and has to earn her stay at the school since she has no parents to buy her a uniform, food, or shoes. She completes water chores twice daily with the other “boarders” or “orphans”, cooks, cleans, and cares for herself and others. OH, and she also takes care of her grandparents hut farther up the dusty dirt road in her “spare” time as well.
This little Patricia, my favorite, let me in to her life with her eyes.
I remember the first time I noticed and really felt what was underneath this poor little girl’s strength. I was watching Patricia and noticed her ” blank stare” one day at the school. You never really know if it’s hunger, fever/sickness, sadness, or loneliness. As soon as our eyes would catch, we would smile and she would sometimes get shy. I began to realize that this blank stare was not just Patricia’s, but it was hundreds of thousands of people who were holding onto the HOPE that someday they might have a chance outside of survival mode.
Patricia wants to be a nun or a nurse, but with no electricity, no parents, and endless responsibilities-her battle is endlessly uphill. I had to keep reminding myself the one thing we could help with was sharing WATER; thinking of the entire cycle of survival mode in the village of Mulajji is still too much for me to comprehend.
Patricia has a heart of gold. Even with no breakfast or lunch, Patricia found me in the dark one night to share 4 kernals of corn from her half cob she just cooked in the dark. I had just finished a full plate of “food” but could not turn down her offering; it’s all she had and it meant a lot to both of us.
One night towards the end of our stay Patricia was out back crying telling Laura how much she would miss us and how much she really really loved us. You could see the love in her eyes-it broke my heart. Never did we want to be another person to leave her, or any of the others, behind. It was hard to explain we had to return home to tell their story.
The last night we were there, Tom brought colored pencils to share with the kids and we were coloring outside the parish house in the rain, by cell phone and flash light, dancing to Ipod music, laughing and crying. All Patricia could do is tell us how much she loved us.
So many little moments have changed us forever.
The moment with Patricia that CHANGED MY LIFE.
After getting to know some of the kids, their names, and personalities, we chose who we wanted to film and follow-Patricia was one of them. As the interviewer, I had to ask some very delicate questions to the kids. The photo in this post was Patricia’s interview day. I asked her about school, water and then her personal life. We want to tell the story of connecting Cleveland to Uganda, so we needed to tell the whole story.
I asked Patricia where she lives and then WHY she lives there. It absolutely ruined me to have to sit silent and stare at her by the camera as we all teared up listening to her tell us about her situation in the few broken sentences she could. All she said she prayed and wished for, in between choking down her tears, were good parents who she said she already loved. We stopped rolling a few moments later, had a major hugging session and cried. There was nothing I could do to help lessen her pain as her little body shook and her eyes teared- I felt helpless.
It was moments like this I wish I wasn’t working. I felt as if we were exploiting her, but in the end I knew we were doing what we had to do to bring attention to this system of problems and show how we can begin to make Patricia’s life better through creating access to safer water (it’s a start).
Patricia has given me HOPE that it is possible for people to LOVE and SHARE in the most dire and desperate of situations. We have a human obligation to SHARE LOVE and WATER with the kids at St. Bonaventure/ St. Charles school. They have already shared so much with us and LOVE YOU even though you have never met.