(I wrote this after my second trip to Sierra Leone January, 2011)
Many of you have heard the story of baby Jonathan, the ten month old that we tried to save when we went to Sierra Leone in February 2010. When Kate, Kellie and I arrived at the clinic one morning, there he was, lying on a nasty plastic mattress with a high fever, racing heart and shallow breathing. We knew it was a long shot but we decided to bring him to the closest hospital. First, we needed to find his mother, Violet. She had left him at the clinic and gone away. We imagined that she’d probably watched him slowly dying through the night and couldn’t face it anymore.
A local man found her and brought her to us but she didn’t want to come inside. She was afraid she’d be in trouble. We told him to tell her we weren’t angry and would she please come inside. When she did come in she had a vacant stare and couldn’t even look at her baby who was struggling to breathe. Our guide and the community health officer were yelling at her to go to her baby. She did but without heart. She sat near him without being able to force herself to look at him. She had given up. I felt bad for her. Everyone seemed to be yelling at her and I could see that she was completely hopeless. I pulled her into a hug and she melted into tears. I told her we loved her and wanted to try to help. She said through tears that her husband had left and was living in another town. “There is no one to help me,” she said. I told her we were going to take Jonathan to the hospital at Moyamba. She agreed and we left for the hour-long journey.
As we traveled, Violet held Jonathan in the seat next to me and I kept wiping his head with my wet scarf, trying to bring down his temp in the cool air-conditioned car. It worked. After a while he opened his eyes and his temp came down some. As this happened, Violet “came back to us.” She looked more alert. She was caressing Jonathan’s legs and arms while we rode. She was beginning to hope.
However, we were incredibly disappointed at what they considered to be a hospital. There was no doctor on duty. The nurses were asking Kate for her opinion on what to do because she’s an RN in the U.S. (which automatically seemed to make her medical staff with seniority there.) They tried twelve different needles to get an IV into Jonathan’s head to hydrate him. Once they were able to do that, we couldn’t provide any more help. It was a matter of waiting to see if he responded. We had to return to Mokanji clinic before dark so we paid for Jonathan’s care and Violet’s transportation and food for three days and then we had to leave.
Violet was a new woman by the time we left. She gave us all hugs and thanked us profusely for doing what we could to help. We left our guide’s phone number with the health officer so he could keep us posted on Jonathan’s progress. We weren’t very hopeful that he would make it but there’s always a chance.
I consoled myself with the knowledge that even if Jonathan didn’t make it, we made a difference in Violet’s life because she would know that God sent three women to Africa to show her His love. He cared and wanted her to know…and I knew she did know now.
By the time we arrived back at Mokanji, the cell phone rang. Jonathan had passed away. We all cried. It was a very sad day. But we also knew that we were there for a reason. That by capturing this tragedy on video, we would be able to show Jonathan’s story to our friends in America and his life would make a difference.
That’s exactly what happened. Kate put a together a 7 minute video of Jonathan’s story and we showed it at The Justice Experience at Kingdom Bound last summer. Over 1500 people came thru the experience and most saw the video. Kate had intended for it to be background in one of the water rooms but an unexpected thing happened. Almost everyone who came through wanted to watch the full 7 minute video. People of all ages and backgrounds stood and watched with tears streaming down their faces. They were touched…changed by what they saw. There was a youth group from Painted Post, NY that was so touched by baby Jonathan that they committed to raise the funds for an entire well. Their official fundraiser hasn’t even happened yet and they are already two-thirds of the way to the $5000 goal! (UPDATE: They raised $10,000…enough for two wells!)
We are convinced that a large portion of the funds that have been raised for wells this past year are from people hearing Jonathan’s story. We are sad that he passed away but are glad that he didn’t die in vain. His short life has inspired others to provide life-giving clean water to the villages and towns in his home country.
But that is not the end of the story. Kate framed a photo of Jonathan in the hopes that during our January 2011 trip we’d be able to find Violet and give it to her. The prospect looked bleak when we first arrived at Mokanji. One of the midwives told us that Violet had moved away. It didn’t seem likely that we’d find her.
But on Monday at the end of a long day at the medical clinic, Kate ran up to me and told me that someone knew where Violet was. We jumped in the car and headed 15 minutes down the road to a village that Kellie had actually been to earlier that day to assess it for a well. She recognized it as we pulled up. There had been a funeral going on when her team had arrived. Kate had asked her to choose out of the four villages she would see that day, which one would get the well from the Painted Post youth group. Kellie told us that she was worried at first because the first three villages that day just didn’t feel right for dedicating to the youth group but that this village had felt just right. She had taped a message for Painted Post there earlier in the day, having no idea that it was the village where baby Jonathan’s family was from. We got chills. It was such a “God thing!”
As we got out of the car, Violet saw us. A smile lit her surprised face as she hugged us and welcomed us to her parent’s village. We met her mother and her grandparents as well as her three beautiful girls. Kate held Jonathan’s big sister, Janet, in her arms the whole time we were there, commenting on how much she looks like her little brother.
Violet and her mother were visibly touched by the picture of Jonathan. She asked if we wanted to see his grave-site. We took a long walk thru the trees toward their water source. Along the way, Violet pointed to a mound of dirt with brush growing all over it. This was where her little boy was buried almost a year ago. A fresh mound was about 50 feet away. Her 50 yr old aunt had caught a cold and died. The funeral had been hers.
We visited with Violet for a while and she just kept telling me how happy she was that we’d come to visit her. The last time we saw her, Jonathan was still alive. I wasn’t sure how she would be doing a year later. But she looks good. She looked malnourished when we first met her, but now she looks strong. She has a vitality that was not there before. She is a strong woman who is fighting to give her girls a good life.
We saw Violet again over the next two days. She came to see us at the medical clinic the next day and we were able give her daughters medicine to help them with stomach issues.
On our last day there, Violet was waiting when Kate and I arrived at the clinic. We had a chance to sit down on the steps of the old clinic where we first met her a year ago and ask her some details about her life. Where does she work? How much does she make? How much is her rent, etc? She wants to go to school to learn to weave baskets, so she can start her own business. But she can’t afford to stop working and go to school.
As we were talking, a man tapped me on the shoulder. He told me that he and his family were all sick and needed medicine. I began to tear up as I told him that we had brought all the medicines we could carry and they were now gone. We had given meds to over 1000 people over the last two days. I told him I was so sorry that we couldn’t help him. He smiled and thanked me sincerely. Kate asked me what he had said and as I explained it to her, I began to cry. I was frustrated at my inability to do anything and I was touched at his sincere thanks. Even though I couldn’t do anything to help him, he appreciated our efforts. It was too much and I wasn’t able to speak for a few minutes. As I cried, one of the most precious moments of my life occurred. Violet, who was sitting right behind me on the next step up, reached down over my shoulders and began to blot my tears with my scarf. Then she hugged me and told me it was okay. She was comforting me. It was an exact role reversal from one year ago when I held her in my arms and told her it would be okay. Who would have thought on that day, that she would be comforting me a year later. It was incredible and beautiful and a moment I’ll always remember.
Still, that’s not the end. Later that day we drove through Mokanji on our way to choose a site for a well. Violet had asked us to come see her home, so we pulled up to the house that she shares with two other families. She was so excited to show us her room. She again kept whispering to me, “I am so happy!” We met her sister and toured her home. Then we walked to the site a couple hundred feet away that would be the Mokanji well.
As we presented a gift to the chief and asked him some assessment questions about his village, a young man walked up and started giving answers to the questions that the chief wasn’t sure about. The young man’s name is Dennis. He’s a school teacher and was very knowledgable about the village and their needs. A friend told me that the first thing he heard Dennis say made him laugh. I had been telling the chief that the soccer ball we presented to him was for the community. At that point, Dennis had made his way through the crowd saying with a laugh, “Here I am, I am the community. Where is my ball?” After answering all the questions we had he took time to talk to many of our team members. He told us before we left that our coming had given the people hope and that he appreciated all that we had done. You may ask what this has to do with Jonathan’s story, other than the fact that Jonathan’s mom would have a well outside her home. Well, it turns out that Dennis is Violet’s brother, Jonathan’s uncle. It seems that there were connections to Jonathan all week. And because of his short life, thousands of families will have clean water this year. That is the rest of the story…for now.