She was sleeping. If my memory serves me well, she wore a bright T-shirt and beige tights. By her size I guess she was four years old. Her face was clean, hair shiny black and parted on the side, like she had just bathed. She was beautiful, resting on the split bamboo floor like some Karen angel.
Rose hoped up the stoop behind her bamboo shack with a bowl of rice and a plate of curry for us to share. “You must be very hungry.” she said as she set down the dishes. This was our fourth visit to Sho-Klo camp and Rose had already become a fast friend to my wife and I.
As I drew my spoon out of the yellow curry I asked her who the little girl in the corner was.
Rose laughed. It was unsettling and out of context. She did that whenever an awkward or disturbing moment arrived. She looked down at her fingers, looked up at me, and began “Our soldiers brought her to me.” And then added, “As far as they know, this little girl is the only known survivor from her village.”
Rose said that the village was attacked, burned down, and deserted a week prior; that KNLA (Karen National Liberation Army) soldiers were sent to document the event, try to determine what happened, and help survivors if any were to be found.
When they arrived they found the remains of a rice-growing village. Walking through the rubble they heard a sound, followed it, and discovered the source: it was this little girl.
“Maybe her parents were killed. Maybe they were sure they would be caught and hid the child, but kept running to divert their attention from their beautiful daughter.”
Rose paused. We hadn’t eaten the steaming rice in front of us. The little girl kept sleeping, curled in a ball like a kitten.
They soldiers carried her for a few days to the Moi River, crossed into Sho Klo refugee camp, and walked the trails along the sho Klo river to St. James Anglican Church. Next to the church was the bamboo shelter belonging to Rose. The little girl was left in Rose’s arms.
We showed up the next day.
Rose finished the narrative and looked up into my eyes. She said, “Steve, please tell your friends in the west what is happening to the children of Burma. Ask them to pray and help so that I can start a home for children like this one.”
Breaking through the granite of my self-centered hypocrisy was this wonderful life in the arms of a woman who herself had survived tremendous pain before arriving on the border. The little girl sleeping on her floor was vulnerable in so many ways and needed nurture and protection. Rose was willing to take her in but she needed a Partner in the project –someone to help provide the basics for this new member of her family.
“Will you help me Steve and Oddny?”
We calculated the cost of care for Rose to become her foster mother. Flip flops, school fees, an umbrella, supplemental food, clothes. Total Cost: 30 dollars. We went through the numbers twice, three times. The result was that it would cost Rose a total of 30 US dollars to provide comprehensive care for this little girl for an entire year.