When Courtney and I decided to sponsor a child after I was asked on this trip to Sri Lanka, I opened the World Vision website and asked Courtney to choose a child. She flicked through a couple pictures of boys, and then a girl popped up. A Muslim girl. And a girl the same age as my youngest child — in fact, exactly one week older than him.
Her name is Afra, and I got to meet her today.
And today is her birthday!
Something that we didn’t know, but I discovered upon meeting Afra and her family, is that she’s disabled.
When she was three, Afra was playing with the neighbor children in her village. A truck driver coming down the road swerved playfully at a friend he saw. But he didn’t see Afra. She was pinned up against a wall, and her leg was crushed and mutilated in the truck’s rear wheel.
The trucker got out of his truck, saw the little girl and, thinking that no one was looking, kicked her into the ditch. To him, she was poor trash.
But some neighbors did see. They ran to get Afra’s mother, who found her in the ditch, unconscious, and with her leg torn open. Bones were broken, flesh torn, muscles separated, blood everywhere.
Her parents, who live in dire poverty, rushed her to the hospital in a nearby town. After three months there, the doctors announced that they’d have to amputate the girl’s leg. As her father told me today, he refused, and demanded that they send Afra to Children’s Hospital in Columbo. There, the surgeons saved the leg, beat back an infection, and took skin from Afra’s left thigh to form some semblance of a right calf.
But not much of one. Her father raised her pant leg at one point today and showed me her damaged leg. Below the knee, Afra’s right leg is little more than a mess of scar tissue, and no more thick than the handle of a baseball bat. It seems as though she has no calf muscle at all. And her tendons were stripped, so now her left heal never touches the ground.
Her parents told me that when she was young, she was a mischievous and loud child. That surprised me, because she was quite shy around me. Since the accident, they told me, she has been very withdrawn. She avoids crowds, even with her extended family at the holidays. And she doesn’t want to go to school because the other children have taken to calling her “Nondi” — that’s the Sinhala word for “Limp.”
I initially met Afra and her family at a celebratory lunch for sponsor children at midday today. Later, the group and I went to her home with a birthday cake and some presents, and I stayed back to visit more with her parents. She lives with her parents and three siblings in a hut made of palm leaves. The entire family sleeps in the hut’s one room, on mats on the dirt floor. Her father works as a day laborer, picking up work when he can get it. When he does get work, he makes about $5 per day.
World Vision sponsorship for Afra is no magic pill. Her family, and her village, have a long road ahead. But, what World Vision will provide is a safeguard for the family. They’ll ensure that she — and, by extension, her brothers and sister — get medical care. They’ll check on her progress in school. They’ll do what they can to get clean drinking water and sanitation to the family, which will bring it to their neighbors as well.
Honestly, in this culture, if Afra has a future, it’s in school. Because of her disability, it will be difficult for her to find a spouse in her village, and impossible for her to make a living as a laborer. If she’s going to have a better life, it’s going to come as a result of education. That’s my hope for Afra.
This is the only hard sell I’m going to do on this trip: I think you should sponsor a child. I don’t get any kickback if you do. In fact, World Vision didn’t even ask me to sponsor a child before this trip — we decided that on our own. But, having met Afra, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s about the best $35 per month that our family will spend.
So, please consider it. There are lots of kids in Afra’s situation here in Sri Lanka, and they could use your help.