A few weeks ago, I came home to find two tiny children on the front porch of my hostel with the rest of the boarding students. “Two new boarding students,” I was informed. I thought maybe I misheard, or something was lost in translation. There was no way the two timid faces before me could be new boarding students. They were so small.
I quickly learned, however, that I had heard correctly; Kesiya, 10, and her younger sister, Hannah, 4, would indeed be staying at the hostel. Even though Kesiya looks like she could be several years younger, there are two other fifth graders that live at the hostel, so her joining us wasn’t all that shocking. But I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘who sends their four-year-old to live at a boarding hostel???’
I think the answer is that most people wouldn’t. Then again, as I later began to piece together, Kesiya and Hannah have a background that is atypical of ‘most people.’
Even now I’m not sure that I know all the details, but what the other students have managed to convey to me is that Kesiya, Hannah, their two brothers, and their father were abandoned by their mother a year and a half ago, when she left Kerala for a different state and a new life. As hard as he tried, their father could not support the four children, and was forced to find help wherever he could. The two boys are being kept at a boys hostel, and Kesiya and Hannah were taken in by the Buchanan Boarding Hostel. Their expenses are being paid for by one of the teachers. They are parent-less and at the mercy of the charity of those around them.
But given their circumstances…I’m not sure they could be in a better place. I am overwhelmed daily at how the Buchanan boarding students ‘mother’ these children in ways that are far beyond their years and maturity. Ansu, a 10th grader, helps feed Hannah and give her baths; Renju and the other TTC students always go out of their way to hug them and give them extra love and attention. Earlier today, a teacher who sometimes stays here overnight brought Kesiya some clothes.
All of these gestures, large and small, toward these children who have basically been orphaned, make me thankful for this community every day. In spite of this, and no matter how well taken care of I know they will be here…can you imagine what it’s like to be Kesiya, who, unlike carefree fellow-5th graders Aleena and Praseela, is responsible for not only herself, but also her younger sister? Can you imagine being 4 and not having a mom to kiss you goodnight? To not be picked up and squeezed by the strong arms of your father? To wander around from person to person and not to have your own person?
Kids are so resilient. Even though she has every reason not to be, Kesiya is one of the most spunky, vivacious girls at the hostel. Hannah is so sweet; it never fails to melt my heart when I pick her up and she holds on to me so tightly, resting her head on my chest. They always seem to be smiling. I don’t know if they necessarily understand their circumstances—Hannah certainly doesn’t—but I do think that in many respects, they are simply thrilled to have been thrust into this bustling environment with a whole lot of new friends and love surrounding them.
Although sometimes, my heart just breaks for them. It breaks when the sorrow that Kesiya hides inevitably surfaces and she cries. When the 8th grade students, often futilely, do their best to pacify her. When all I can do is invite her to play Uno, hoping that it will distract her from thoughts of a family who has left her and Hannah behind. It breaks when Kesiya knows she can’t explain to me why she is crying, but wanting to make me understand, looks up at me with tears spilling down her face and says the simplest Malayalam word that she knows is enough to convey to me the reason for her sadness: ‘amma.’ Mother.
“We may wonder
Whom can I love and serve?
Where is the face of God
To whom I can pray?
The answer is simple.
That naked one. That lonely one.
That unwanted one is my brother and my sister.
If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” –Mother Teresa