Little Milcah folds herself in half, her auntie tells me. She
shouldn't be able to rest like this, but the two-year-old is fast
asleep with her head lying on her feet. Her limp body is completely
folded over as she lies across her auntie's lap.
It might look cute for a moment - or for yoga devotees - but
Milcah resting with her chest on her knees makes me look for what
else is wrong with her body. And there are problems to be found.
Not only does Milcah have HIV, but she has too much fluid in the
passages of her brain, building up pressure that compresses the
brain tissue. Her spinal column was not formed all the way, and
Milcah has no strength in her legs. She will probably never
To add to this sad story, Milcah's mother died just two days
ago. Her mother had been very sick for several months, in and out
of the hospital with tuberculosis. She was wasting away from her
HIV and her TB, and she could not care for Milcah.
Every day in Kenya, I see women who stand in the gap for
children. Every day, I see women nurturing children who are not
their biological children.
"My sister was so, so sick," explains the tall, broad-shouldered
aunt sitting in front of me in a dress of brown and cream-colored
lace, with Milcah in her lap in a yoga pose and a white, frothy
dress. "She was so sick, and so I took them into my home and I took
care of them. And I will care for the girl."
And I believe this auntie will. She understands the little
girl's medicines for HIV and for seizures. She expresses interest
in physical therapy and getting her to a neurosurgeon. She is
loving and kind in her interactions with her niece, and I watch
them make each other smile. This is an auntie undaunted, an auntie
who will take care. This is an auntie committed to carrying this
child for the journey ahead.
Throughout my clinic day, these women who stand in the gap bring
in their children. Grandmothers raising half-a-dozen grandchildren.
Aunties who take care of the children of their sisters and
brothers. Even neighbors who are making sure that children get
their medicines every day or have enough food to eat.
They are not perfect, these caregivers. We do see things go
wrong, especially when there is not enough money and not enough
food and too many children.
But every single day, I see these everyday heroes doing so much
that is right: Opening the doors of their homes and hearts and
taking in children without hesitation.
When I stop and consider the generosity of these women --
instead of just checking the box on yet another clinic form to
indicate that this is an auntie or a grandmother bringing a child
in for care, supervising a child's medicines - I am blessed by
this. I am amazed at these everyday examples of radical
hospitality, of helping in the midst of brokenness, of women
standing in the gap for children.