I met Afra on her eighth birthday. I had no idea how big of an impact this little girl would have on me. We spent the afternoon eating cake, playing games, and celebrating with her family, friends, and neighbors.
The photo above shows me with Afra and children from her neighborhood.
What it doesn’t show you is Afra’s leg.
Afra was hit by a car at the age of 3, her leg 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 what he had done, 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, they announced that they would have to amputate. Her father refused to accept the diagnosis and demanded that they transfer her to the children’s hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city.
After a serious infection and 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. Running is impossible.
Emotionally, the tragedy 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 The incident has made her shy, withdrawn, and quiet.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 he pointed out on his blog that getting an education is probably the only chance Afra will have at future financial security. As a day laborer, her father struggles to provide for Afra and her three siblings. If he can get work, he earns roughly $5 a day.
In the future, it’s likely that 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.
On the day I met Afra, 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 originally ostracized by their communities become 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.
On the 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 who maimed her, her schoolmates, and her 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 who had spent the afternoon playing with us were the same kids who 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 into 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.
So, despite her hardships, Afra, her family, and the rest of her village will have greater access to basics like clean water, food, education, and healthcare. Sponsorship brings hope to children, families, and communities. It produces sustainable change and empowerment for 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. You can become a part of that: Sponsor a child like Afra today.
Read related post: Meet Afra, and your life may change
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Last month, a team of eight bloggers traveled with World Vision to Sri Lanka to experience firsthand the impact of our child sponsorship programs. Read additional blog posts from the trip participants.