She is only tiny, and a light weight compared to the children of my flesh. She runs fast, her giggle is gravelly and when she whispers my name it pulls on something deep inside my chest.
She smells spicy, and sweet. Her skin is like deep chocolate velvet, and when she smiles her entire face just beams pure joy.
This reads like a love poem, and to be honest, it completely and utterly is. A child I barely know has carved herself a unique space in my life.
She knew who I was the moment I saw her. Her Rafiki sisters told her I was her sponsor, and all of the kids know exactly what that means, so she hung back and just watched me for a while. Looking away if I looked at her little shaved head too long. Looking up under her lashes with her ebony eyes when she was sure I wasn’t looking at her anymore. Just watching.
She did that a lot when I was playing with others over the days. Just watching.
From the moment I left my house, the thing I looked forward to the most was meeting my Rafiki Mwema sponsor child, Joy*.
I wanted to meet all of the Rafiki kids and see the Queen’s Castle and experience everything there was about Rafiki Mwema and the amazing work they do there, but it was that one little girl who I had dreamed of meeting for over a year.
It was a big journey to get to her, seven days of the hardest slog, but on the plane heading from Tanzania to Nairobi my excitement grew through my total exhaustion. My lips were blistered messes, and I was bone tired, but I was on my way to meet the child who had inspired my climb.
We were picked up by the delightful Jimmy for our three-hour drive to Nakuru. There had been a great debate if it was too late in the day for us to brave the road to Nakuru. It’s known to be dangerous because many matutu (minibus) drivers got their licenses from cereal packs and drive like maniacs. The dark just inflames that situation.
Zebras and gazelles lined the road and blew my little city-girl mind. Jimmy chuckled with delight as we squealed over the wildlife that casually watched us driving into the dusk.
It was well past little girls’ bedtime when we arrived, but the big girls, the Queens as they are now known rushed to surround the van. They tussled to carry our bags, they shyly offered their arms for a hug. These girls are at Rafiki Mwema because they have faced some manner of atrocity in their young lives, and many of them are so open and loving.
Not all, of course.
Some stand back. Some watch with slightly hardened eyes, haunted, wary. We would need to build trust with some. I think it was the dance-off that got me some credit with these Queens. They honestly were surprised that the old ‘mzungu’ has moves.
One of my most cherished memories will be that night of dancing and the afternoon we baked two cakes. I gave each girl a job and together we made average cakes because I had no access to recipes, but we were all proud of those cracked, sweet delights.
When the sun broke over the mountain range behind the Queen’s Castle on the first morning, I was awake and ready to go see the Little Queens. We had gifts, and clothes to give. Nothing sweetens the meeting of a kid more than gifts, we’re not silly.
Four handfuls of brown skinned babies running around in the dust. One of the Aunties greeted us, and the girls came running to hug us and welcome us. I saw Joy* playing in the dirt, covered in dust. Picking it up and rubbing it on her feet until the were beautifully dirty and perfect to a toddler’s eyes.
She was so shy. Smiling a little sweet smile and ducking her head before I was completely swamped by 10 little girls wanting to put flowers in my hair. We stuffed as many blooms behind our ears as we could and we smiled like loons at each other.
The older girls speak English well, but the younger ones speak mainly Swahili. Everyone seemed to understand English though but to be honest, it really didn’t matter. We were all talking to each other in whatever language and we all knew what we were saying.
We were saying ‘hi.’ We were saying ‘pleased to meet you.’ We were saying ‘you’re incredible.’
And they were.
Morning time is school time, so they would break into classes and sit around blackboards in their bedrooms or living room and they would learn. Some will go to school one day, when they were physically and emotionally ready, but for now, this is all they know.
It is safe here. They are loved here.
We did craft or face painting or reading with them. They were like my kids, and they adored getting busy with their hands and getting creative. They were cheeky and silly, and inquisitive and clever.
They were like my kids. They are like our kids.
A couple of visits to the boys, the beautiful brave boys whose stories ripped my heart apart. New boys came in the night we arrived. One of them my D Man’s age, already addicted to glue. Brutally bloodshot eyes hanging out of his sweet little head.
We saw them when they were coming down. Sleeping on a tatty mattress on the tattier floor of the boys’ house. It looked like a drug-slum but it was quite the opposite. It was their safe-place. A place to heal.
Putting broken children back together with love and care, and not really knowing how they’ll put the next dollar on the table. If they see a child they can help, they will take them in and work out the rest later. It’s not a big business. It’s not a multinational not for profit charity.
It’s a handful of incredibly passionate people who want to help abused children.
It’s taken me weeks to process my time in Africa.
Maybe I’m not quite there yet, maybe I never will be because my mind keeps casting to a certain farewell when little arms snaked around my neck and she buried her head into my neck, and we just breathed each other for moment.
Just us, me and my little rafiki.
If you would like to help make one child’s life better by being a sponsor, go here
You can also choose to sponsor the outreach team who help the kids and their communities to understand what has happened and ensure that IF they return to their communities, they are safe. This only costs $5 per month.
If you would like to make a one-time donation, go here