The first time I met Wadah, I thought he was blind. He failed to respond at all to his surroundings. The way he moved about and lack of response to stimuli clearly communicated he suffered severe disabilities. It was upon learning his name and attempting to interact with him that I was informed he could hear but did not respond to his name. Next, I heard his story.
Wadah was found abandoned in the middle of the road. No one knows how old he was when he was found, but MODUC, the orphanage where he lives, estimates he was one and half. He was between a tea shop and a garage and his hands and knees were completely calloused from exclusively crawling around on rough surfaces. It’s hard to know the extent of Wadah’s disabilities, but as a friend pointed it, it’s likely they were confirmed the day he was abandoned.
Last week, I was able to visit MODUC again. This time, Wadah was in a small building, holding onto the shirt of a slightly larger boy. This boy had been close by Wadah on our last trip, and it became clear he had a vested interest in his small friend’s well being. Wadah watched us give the other boy a deworming pill and held out his had to receive one as well. He took it and chewed it as the boy before him did. Although his senses and processing are clearly limited, we were able to see on this trip that he is better able to observe and participate in his surroundings than we initially thought.
I believe there’s great power in physical contact. My first inclination upon learning he had some sensory perception was to snatch him up and love on him, but I hesitated. Moments later, we were called into another building for a meeting with Mother Bae, who runs the orphanage. As we waited for Mother Bae, I saw the larger boy and a few other children who had been with us in the first building come in through a back door. I looked through the side window and saw the stream of youngsters continuing. Bringing up the rear was Wadah. The orphanage estimates that he’s about five now, but he’s the size of a three-year-old. He walks slowly and tentatively. On the left side, he is flat-footed, but he walks on his right toes as if he was wearing a single high-heel. His spine curves to the side from his hips to his neck to straighten out his top half and maintain his balance. There were steps down from the first building and steps up into the one where we stood. He dropped down on all-fours to negotiate them.
As I saw Wadah coming, I waited by the back door for him to arrive. There are two common hand greetings in Liberia. One is an elaborate hand shake that ends with the participants snapping off of each others’ fingers. The second is a fist bump followed by two to three taps on the chest with your fist. In my experience, the second is more common amongst children. As Wadah rounded the corner, I squatted on my heels to get a little closer to his height and held my fist out. He looked up at me, gave me a pound, tapped his chest twice, and went on his way to another room where all the children had gathered. I was elated that I got to interact with him, but disappointed that it seemed our time together was over.
I sat down with the adults as the meeting started. A couple moments later, Wadah was leading a few of the children back into the room. They quickly surpassed his slow, tentative steps, so he dropped down on his hands and knees to crawl, moving more speedily and making up ground. He stopped about ten feet short of where we were meeting. I stood up and walked over to him and held my hands out to him, inviting him to come into my arms. He held his open arms up to me in reply. I swept him up, hugged him, carried him over to the meeting and sat him on my knee. He sat quietly and comfortably, finding spaces for his hands in mine. He eventually settled with his small hands holding one finger on each of my much larger hands. I hope he felt as joyful as I did as while we sat there together.
Quite literally, God only knows what Wadah has been through in his short life. In all likelihood, he was born with disabilities that were drastically exacerbated by malnutrition and neglect. He has and will face many challenges in his life. Thankfully, Wadah has a tremendous amount of heart. One of the most attractive things in the world to me is when broken people (and puppies) do all they can to overcome their circumstances. Grit, gumption, will, being a badass, whatever you want to call it, Wadah has it.
What breaks my heart is that Wadah will not get the help he needs to experience the fullest possible recovery from the birth lottery he largely lost. I’ve found myself hemming and hawing about the concept of adopting from a place like Liberia on this trip. Adoption saves children in some respects, but it can steal them from a country that needs them in another respect. Liberia has a whole generation of amputees and heroin addicts, child soldiers from civil wars that laid waste to their country. I believe orphanages and schools here need to be strengthened so the children of the next generation can help rebuild this country.
However, Wadah and many of his peers need involved care. After in effect watching a man die in a critical care unit last week, I can speak first hand to the fact that medical resources are limited here. If I could take Wadah home this week when I head home to SF, I would. I’ve found myself daydreaming a couple of times that I could come back for him one day.
I’ve spent a lot of time in other countries feeling that I was helping to solve others’ problems. I met homeless families in Mexico and assisted in building them homes. I did the same for folks on an Apache reservation. In eight countries, I’ve helped bring savings and loan programs to folks who did not have formal financial services available to them. I’m thankful for these opportunities and I’m proud of much of the work that I did.
Thinking about Wadah makes me wonder what more we can do. It also makes me feel trapped. There is so much more than Wadah’s life at stake. I’ve spent nearly a month in a country that was formerly a shining star of Africa, but now lacks basic infrastructure. I’m just not sure where to start, but I will say that if you or someone you know is interested in adopting Wadah, I can do my best to help.