I met Afra on her 8th birthday. Here, you see her smiling after blowing out her birthday candles, surrounded by friends and family. She’s about to smash some cake in Tony Jones‘ face.
What you don’t see in this photo is Afra’s leg.
Afra was hit by a car at the age of 3, her leg was caught in the rear wheel of the vehicle. The driver meant to playfully swerve at a friend, and instead hit Afra. He got out, saw the damage he had caused, kicked Afra into a ditch and drove away. Neighbors saw the incident and alerted her mother, who found her in the ditch, unconscious, her leg completely disfigured.
Her family rushed her to the local hospital, where doctors did what they could. After several months, doctors announced they would have to amputate. Her father refused to accept the diagnosis, and demanded they transfer her to the children’s hospital in Colombo. After a serious infection, skin and tissue grafts, Afra’s leg was scarcely able to be saved. Now what remains is little more than bone and scar tissue.
The result of this man’s actions are twofold. Physically, Afra walks with a perpetual limp. Her Achilles tendon was scarred and shortened as a result of the incident. Afra walks as though one foot is in a high heel, while the other foot is flat. Playing and running are impossible. Walking is difficult.
Emotionally, this man’s actions will continue to follow Afra as each phase of life brings new challenges. Her mother said that before the accident, Afra was an outgoing and mischievous child. The incident has made her shy, withdrawn, quiet. When I met Afra, her smiles were few and far between.
At school, her classmates make fun of her, calling her limp, or ‘Nondi,’ in Sinhalese. She is ostracized by her peers. School has become so much of a challenge, that she no longer wants to go.
My friend Tony Jones sponsors Afra, and pointed out in his blog that getting an education is the only chance Afra will have at financial security. Her father struggles to provide for Afra and her three siblings as a day laborer. If he can get work, it’s roughly $5 a day.
In the future, it’s likely Afra will never marry. Labor won’t be an option because of her physical limitations. She lives in a culture where having a disability has made survival nearly impossible.
I met Afra on her 8th birthday. We showed up at her home, a tiny one room dirt floor hut, with cake, presents, and a crowd of people.
Before our arrival, Hasanthi, our translator and handler explained to us how good it was for Afra that we were celebrating her. Many children who are ostracized by their communities, are accepted after they are sponsored. When their community sees an outsider accept the child, they often follow suit.
After candles were blown out and cake had been cut, most of our group left. Tony and I stayed behind to spend some more time with Afra and her family.
Afra’s parents opened up to Tony about the incident and Afra and I played together. Soon there was a crowd of neighborhood children around us. I tried to think of games that were easily translatable to entertain them. We limboed, did what simon said, and played duck duck chicken, because in Sri Lanka there are no geese.
Outside, I laughed with Afra and the children, internally, my heart was filled with a somber, silent prayer. It sat in my chest and grew stronger the more time I spent with Afra. My heart was filled with so much joy and desperation all at once.
By the time I left, the desperation had all but overtaken me. Seeing Afra smile so genuinely and freely kept me glued together. Everything in me wanted Afra’s heart to be etched with the truth that she is beautiful, valuable, and loved. I don’t think I have ever wanted something so much for another human being.
I was desperate to drown out the message sent by so many in her life: the man that maimed her, her schoolmates and community. The message that she wasn’t enough. That somehow her disability made her less than human. That she wasn’t worth it.
I pleaded with God.
I hoped that somehow our gifts of cake and presents wouldn’t be trivial and temporary, but would speak a lasting message- Afra you are worthy of celebration.
As we left, Hasanthi again provided hopeful insight. Some of the children that had spent the afternoon playing with us were the same kids that teased Afra at school.
Again, I prayed this would be a turning point– but this time for Afra’s tormentors. That taunts and jeers would turn to friendship and acceptance. That they would also see the truth that Afra is beautiful, valuable and loved, and treat her accordingly.
While I might not know the intangible impact of our birthday party for Afra, I take comfort in the fact that Afra has been sponsored through World Vision. This ensures that despite her family’s hardships, she, her family, and the rest of her village will have access to clean water, food, education, and healthcare. Sponsorship brings hope to children, families, and communities. It produces sustainable change, and empowerment to people in need. I have witnessed it firsthand.
To me, this is the heart of World Vision’s work– meeting people’s needs because they are beautiful, valuable and loved. Be a part of caring for children who need it- sponsor a child like Afra.