That First Smile

February 2, 2007


The first smile….


I’ve received several photographs of him – wise far beyond his years, handsome, strong, almost noble in his handed-down pullovers and bare feet.  He tends to stand stoically straight for the camera: shoulders back, head up, back always straight and proud.  This photo was different,  this photo was the first smile.  Its impact is tremendous.  This is my boy. He’s my responsibility for years to come, and I made him smile.  I hope I’m worthy of that privilege again and again.


Living in what United Nations’ hunger task-force has identified as the worst place on earth,  he has seen more death than I can imagine.  AIDS is rampant – his village is filled with orphaned children.  He is one of the very few lucky ones,  both of his parents are alive.  There is no employment, not even an economy.  The water is full of parasites which kill people from the inside out, devastating the population.  Most children aren’t given names until after the fifth birthday – the death rate is so high that parents issue temporary IDs that translate into “boy number three” or “girl number four.”


I sent money through the service organization for the family to spend at Christmas.  My trivial $75 was enough to provide two tee shirts, a pullover, overalls, adidas shoes, a book bag, and a young heifer. Seriously.  That same $75 wouldn’t have been enough to cover the shoes and clothes had I been buying them here for my nephew.  I am moved to tears just considering the hassles of my past week and how important they didn’t need to become.  I see this young man, and I get quite clear on what matters:  love, family, and creating joy.


He isn’t able to write his letters to me in English yet.  He speaks to an interpreter, who then transcribes his letters to me.  He is learning social graces, and inquires about the health of my family and friends.  He is thankful for my sponsorship.  I’m not sure how I to express how humbled I am by him.  He is a living example of all the greatness in the world and he stands as such in the face of the most extreme circumstances.


His name is Tamru,  he is nine years old, and he just bought his family its first cow.

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