“Mama!” “Mama!” The twins in turn cry out tearfully, running towards us.
These are adventuresome two-year-olds who roam freely through the Project Somos Village, who will clamber up and down a teeter totter without stopping if you let them, and one of whom would have launched himself off down the mini zipline if he hadn’t been caught. But their mother – the one consistent in their young lives – and I had stepped briefly out of view, and that momentarily panicked the twins.
Once more, I’m reminded of the rightness of Heather and Greg’s determination to keep families together in a country where hundreds of thousands of children have been orphaned because their widowed or abandoned mothers, mired in poverty, couldn’t afford to keep them – or worse, have had them removed to orphanages.
Bringing in mothers as well as their children – orphan prevention – is a much more complex enterprise than an orphanage. The mothers carry their own emotional baggage, and histories often involving violence. Most have had no positive parenting models to copy.
While I was at Project Somos, a new mother and her three children arrived. Her palms were painfully cracked; she had been hand-washing laundry in order not to be separated from her children, but it wasn’t enough to pay rent. Natalia is bright and immediately got into the teamwork routine of a Somos home.
She sings and plays with her children. We hope she’ll inspire other mamas to simply have fun with their little ones. I can’t get out of my mind the picture of two other mothers weeping, each relating how – before she came to the Village – she could think of nothing except getting something to eat. Nothing but that.
In this safe and encouraging environment, the mamas start to reveal their potential. Clara is assuming leadership roles and is almost ready to move out with her children, on her own two feet. Quiet Paula declares that she doesn’t want to depend on anyone else again, so she wants to learn to read. She comes beaming from her first lesson with Somos preschool teacher Ali.
When we leave for home, the goodbyes are long. Clara says our coming back again has shown we have confidence in Project Somos and in the mothers. They thank us and all the donors for helping them and the people of their country. Their gratitude is something the mamas express often; it’s hard for them to understand why people so far away should care about them. It’s easy for me to reassure her there are hundreds of us. The hard thing is leaving.