One of the favorite parts of my life in Liberia is photographing kids. They’re such characters, so full of life.
Last week I needed to get a shot of one of the sponsored children, Mary Ann Ford. I found Mary Ann and helped her tidy herself up for the picture. Mary Ann is in pre kindergarten and in Liberia the minimum age for this class is three years old.
This means she is small small.
So there I am helping her button up her shirt and smooth her skirt while she solemnly stands staring at me with her big brown eyes. I wipe some dirt off her face then take Mary Ann’s teeny hand and we slowly walk over to the library.
As we’re strolling along I’m wondering, why isn’t she crying? Any child I go near that is 4 years and under usually bursts into tears. The threat “white man gonna take you away!” has been employed as a scare tactic by Liberian parents for so long little kids who don’t know better still take it as the truth. But not Mary Ann, she doesn’t let out a peep.
We finally arrive at the library, I snap a few shots of this serious child then send her on her way. The next time I see her she’s sitting on the step outside of her classroom while her classmates file through the door, laughing, yelling and stepping around her. Her teacher Mr. Wade pops his head out the door and calls to Mary Ann, encouraging her to come inside. Finally, he takes her hand and leads her into the class.
Two minutes later Mr. Wade comes running out of the classroom, his eyes are wide and he cries, “Mary Ann had dropped, she’s dropped!” Debbie, a friend visiting from Canada, and myself rush inside to see Mary Ann on the floor drooling and convulsing with her eyes glazed over. Our first thought was seizure so we placed her in the recovery position, but as Debbie touches her skin she immediately notices that this little girl is on fire.
Debbie, mother of four, veteran of parenting, bundles Mary Ann into her arms and takes her outside. We lay her down in the shade, quickly take off her uniform and Debbie starts flicking cool water on her while I fan her with books from the library. Within a minute goose bumps form on her skin and Mary Ann starts crying.
Bendu the kindergarten teacher, mother of one and veteran of sick Liberian children, arrives on the scene with a fresh bucket of cool water and a cloth. We stand Mary Ann up and start to wring out the wet cloth over her head. As I knelt there holding up this sad, small, crying child rubbing her eyes my heart breaks.
She is so small.
And we didn’t have our truck in that moment.
And the nearest hospital was 40 kms away down bumpy dirt roads.
A nurse had recently set up shop in Mary Ann’s village so we start walking in that direction. Fortunately, as soon as we start out our truck shows up and we were able to load her inside. In 10 minutes we are at the nurse’s station and Bendu rushes Mary Ann inside.
The nurse pulls out a malaria testing kit (a new and fantastic development here) pokes Mary Ann in the finger and we all anxiously await the results. The malaria test quickly produces one pink line followed by another. This means she is positive for cerebral malaria. The nurse scans her shelves for a treatment and smiles confidently when she finds the right one. Everything is going to be okay.
Within a period of 5 minutes of arriving in the village Mary Ann’s sickness is diagnosed, a treatment is prepared and her grandmother arrives to take over. Debbie and I look at each, take a deep inhale and whip the sweat off our brows. A thousand words are exchanged in that glance and I know the last three unspoken ones are a very common expression in Liberia – Thank you Jesus.