Mother Teresa Center, October 2019.
I am in Huruma, one of the many slums from which many of the patients with orthopedic problems that I treat at Neema Hospital come from. I am sitting in the minibus next to Boniface, ours driver. We proceed at a walking pace among a multitude of people on the move. This is a world of sun and dust on which a cloud of human and animal stench stagnates. Every now and then we meet a motorcycle taxi that advances slowly juggles the people. The rear seat passenger is sheltered from the scorching sun under the distinctive multicolored umbrella.
We arrive in a widening of the road and we turn left. We stop in front of a large blue gate that is opened to us with thoughtful courtesy by a askari tall and thin with clear Ethiopian features. We enter the center of the Sisters of Mother Teresa. He comes towards us smiling sister Oriah, of Spanish origin. She recognized me: we had already met the year before at Neema Hospital where she had come to take some children with cerebral palsy. After breathing in the dust and acrid smells of the slum, her embrace, young smile and the scent of flowering frangipani give me a sense of relief.
This center is a happy island: there is a scrupulous cleaning of the rooms, the nuns who wear the white dress with the veil edged in blue alternate with the nurses around the little guests who need constant attention. Forty children are hospitalized, most with severe disabilities, almost no one walks independently, many have obvious mental deficits. Now, we are at nine in the morning, we find them placed in special chairs under a large canopy, after being fed for breakfast. The nurses move among themselves, some correcting the position of the neck, arms, legs; others are cleaned by the regurgitation or the trickle of saliva that they lose continuously. Both they and the nuns know the name of each child, they smile at everyone, they caress, they say something affectionate.
Mine is a delicate task: visiting the little patients I have to understand which of them surgery can improve their disability. I have to carefully evaluate the mental state: it would not be useful to correct a malformation in the arms, hands, legs, feet if the child does not have the mental faculties to walk and manipulate objects of common use. I conclude that only two of them will benefit from it: Patrick and Peter.
Patrick, the first, ten years old, does not walk but has a discreet use of the upper limbs, he speaks slowly and effortlessly, distorting the words; he understands what is said to him well, he spends his days drawing with crayons, albeit with difficulty because of the overly rigid muscles that hinder the movements of his fingers. The scribbles on the sheets of paper reveal a good combination of colors, it is clear that this is his passion. With surgery it will be possible to improve the grip between the thumb and the other fingers to allow him to use crayons with less effort and more dexterity. And so he will be able to express through colors the world of fantasies and emotions imprisoned in his head. After all, isn't this the meaning of figurative art? Each work always bears traces, more or less intense, of the state of mind of the author.
Peter is seven years old. He too has stiff muscles that force him to stay in the kneeling position and thus prevent him from walking; he has no mental deficits, he speaks correctly: for him I can stretch the tendons in the hips and knees to put him in the conditions suitable for walking.
While I visit them, a child sitting on one arrives very quickly skateboard pushed by the strength of his arms: he holds out his hand to me, his name is Andrew, five years old. S Oriah tells me that he was left as a newborn at the gate, because he was completely paralyzed in the lower limbs. He is a carrier of a malformation of the spine and medulla called "spina bifida". He moves with ease among his companions, zigzagging quickly between chairs and prams. Every now and then he arranges his inanimate legs by crossing them under his pelvis. What is striking is the contrast between his ability to push himself with his hands, the vivacity of his gaze and the abandonment in which the lower limbs lie, as if they were bulky objects. Andrew lives like this. Looking at him, one would say that he enjoys running around smiling aboard his personal velocifero. Now the world is all here for him, in this institute. Growing up and going to school he will be able to get out of the isolation into which his disability and that world that others are denied, he will be able to know it.
I find myself uncomfortable in front of these little ones picked up in the garbage or abandoned in front of the gate of the center. Uncomfortable questions arise in me. Why are there children in these conditions? Why does our God, defined as good and merciful, allow this? It's a question we've all asked ourselves in life, at least once. I don't have an answer. Perhaps Oriah gave himself his answer and drew certainties from it. This can be seen in the serene way of behaving among these children who are victims of human tragedies. With her I am not yet so close to ask her what her inner path was. I am convinced that by virtue of your response, you live by transmitting love in the simplicity of daily gestures: your behavior is not due only to faith, to obedience to the Order. She follows the rules of the "heart" that lead you spontaneously to help those in need, the poor, the least, even those who are your enemies. It is all written in the Gospel, it is not new, but how many live it so radically? I admire the exemplary work, the courage, hers but also that of all the other women who take care of these "useless" children, who should not have been born because they are not functional to the lifestyle of our world, efficient and rich, according to the which a person is worth for what he does - like a cog - not for what he is. We would all like to be beautiful, dynamic, there is no place for the imperfect, they slow us down and undermine our basic selfishness that homologates us and makes us reject the different. The different that would undermine the model of life that we have built to measure, we "normal".
I believe that giving the possibility of inclusion back to even one of these children is a great result. I intentionally used the term inclusion and non-integration: the first is the overcoming of the second, in the sense that it is the people, the community, the environment that must adapt to the needs of people with disabilities and not the other way around. But this topic is very complex to address with a few lines in all its facets. It might be enough, as a stimulus to act in our daily life, to always keep in mind that love is not made only of words but is a "humble service, done in silence and in hiding, when you forget about yourself and think of others, this is love ”(Pope Francis).
Here, Oriah is all here.
Following these thoughts, I leave her with a hug: I return to the harsh everyday life of the slum and of my patients with even greater motivation in wanting to give as much as I can to them, "sick of poverty". In these twenty-six years of African missions I have worked, met many people; of some I remember the name, of others the face, many I don't even remember. But of you, Oriah, I will not forget the smile and your hands that transmit love.