This time around, two of TTL’s outreach workers and I set out to the Linakaneng Clinic, which is about an hour outside of Mokhotlong.
We were delivering formula and food to almost a dozen clients. We also “graduated” one small boy, which means he’s made it to a point where he is healthy and happy and doesn’t need monthly support from us anymore. Graduation is the goal for every child.
Standing and sitting in the shade around the clinic were dozens of mothers with their young babies and children. Toddlers walked around holding hands, and I saw one adolescent girl carrying a younger girl on her back. It was obviously a communal experience, albeit one necessitated by the threat of illness.
We took lots of measurements of lots of babies – most of whom were getting monthly check-ups – and also performed a rapid HIV test on a small girl. Although her mother was positive, her test said she was negative. That gives hope that the more accurate DNA test will provide the same result.
Then, as we were just about to leave, an older woman approached us with the request that we look at her granddaughter.
The grandmother said the girl’s unwed mother had “disappeared,” leaving her daughter behind.
After we said we would look at the girl, the grandmother walked away and then returned with a child I first thought was little more than a year old.
I was wrong.
Looking at her Bukana, or health booklet, I saw that quiet little Seithati will be three years old in April. She only weighs 6 kg, or about 13 lbs. Her arms and legs are tiny, her swollen belly is large and distended.
We asked the grandmother if she and Seithati could come with us to the hospital. She said she couldn’t, because she had other children to care for – one of whom was on her back – and no one to watch them. Still, we said, Seithati should see a doctor.
The outreach workers then spoke to the grandmother about TTL and the safe house and the help we wanted to get for her granddaughter. Eventually, the woman agreed to let us take Seithati with us, with the promise that we would of course be in touch.
On the way home, I rode in the front seat, and one of the TTL outreach workers rode in the back holding Seithati. We also gave a ride to another young mother and her baby, who needed to come to Mokhotlong because the Linakeneng Clinic didn’t have the baby’s prescription refill.
When we got to the hospital, one of the outreach workers and I took Seithati in and spoke with the nurses about her condition, giving them her age, weight and MUAC (middle upper-arm circumference) and handing them her Bukana.
About 20 minutes later, we walked out of the hospital with a fresh supply of plumpy nut packets – which I carried in my shirt because the hospital had no plastic bags – and a request that we bring Seithati back in a week so the nurses can check her weight again.
When we got back to TTL, Seithati – who is old enough to talk – said she was hungry. No wonder, I thought.
After the caregivers gave her a warm bath and dressed her in a freshly laundered shirt and dress, they went straight to feeding her one of the packets of plumpy nut. Some kids don’t like the “plumpino,” but Seithati happily gobbled up every spoonful. She also chugged a cup of water until it was empty, a funny sight that brought out happy laughs from the caregivers and me.
I don’t know how long she will be one of our resident babies in the safe house, but for now its good to know she’s being well taken care of.
I haven’t seen her cry once since we picked her up at the clinic. As I write this, she’s inside the playroom, playing with the other babies.
Thuso, who is our most gregarious 18-month-old boy, seems to have a crush on Seithati, and is also bigger than her even though she is a full year older.
But we’ll see if that has changed after a good week of plumpino.
The TTLF Fellow is a representative of the North American organisation Touching Tiny Lives Foundation. Based for one year in Mokhotlong, Lesotho, the TTLF Fellow serves in an administrative support capacity for the Basotho charity Touching Tiny Lives (TTL).