The 'children's village', as it's called, is on one end of the COTN property, separated from the offices and the school campus. We walked down with Quami about 9:00 am Saturday morning.
As you crest a small hill, you can just see the tops of the children's homes amongst the trees. I was blown away by the beauty of Sierra Leone each time I made this trek...Once you arrive at the village, you see the separate homes. There are ten of them, five for boys and five for girls. Each home has about 10 children, as well as a house mother and an auntie. All the mothers and aunties are African.Each home has it's own garden, a small kitchen in a nearby outbuilding, and an indoor bathroom facility. As of right now, there is no running water. There is also no electricity in the children's village, so all the cooking takes place over a fire. This is T.'s kitchen.The kids carry water from this pump, where the water is filtered and made safe for human consumption. Tejan's house was right next to the pump, but some of the houses are quite a distance from it. The kids all know how to carry water on their heads... amazing.They also have a few pets, as well as goats and chickens that they raise for food. I tried goat meat... I probably won't eat it again, but at least I can say I tried it!
Tejan lives in the 'house of strength.' Each house has a name, as well as a number. His is house five. His house mother's name is Mama Josephine. She is an incredibly sweet woman. I so enjoyed the time I was able to spend with her. I've been praying for her for months, so putting a face on all those prayers was such a blessing.I brought along some family pictures and an MP3 player with some of T's favorite songs on it for him to listen to while I was there. Fortunately, those things were in my carry-on. I had a whole pack of letters and photos from friends at home that were in my suitcase. I had been looking forward to sharing them with him, but was able to send them back with someone who was returning to Banta after I got my suitcase back (which happened about two hours before I needed to re-check it back in for my flight home.) I was glad I at least had a few pictures and the MP3 player... the whole morning while I was in the village, he wandered around with one earphone in his ear and another in someone else's ear, sharing his favorite American music with his friends.Tejan's living room is full of his treasures, which he proudly displays and shares with his brothers in the home. I was proud to see how he has shared his 'American blessings' with the other children - sharing his toys and telling stories of his friends and experiences... I didn't sense that any of it was boastful, which is a huge answer to prayer. We wandered from home to home all morning long, letting the kids show off their rooms and tell us about their lives. In one of the girls houses, we got into a long discussion about hair - and they told us all the different names of the braid styles they like to wear. "You kiss me, I'll kiss you", "Beyonce," and "All go up" are a few of the names I remember. These same girls sang song after song for us, which was such a treat - and a memory I'll always cherish. The little girl in the red dress had the highest little voice, always singing an octave above all her sisters. It just made me giggle and brought tears of joy to my eyes. So sweet.At the next house we went to, the aunties and the girls were actually doing their braids. It was so cool to watch them work and see what a comforting and loving ritual this is for them. Their fingers moved SO fast. They told us they could do a whole head in about thirty minutes.Tejan really wanted them to braid my hair (which I would have LOVED because with no ability to style it, I was dreadfully tired of my messy ponytail) but unfortunately, this was one of the last houses we went to and we only had about ten minutes before we were leaving. Next time, for sure, I'm getting braids.
I wish we'd had time to get to know the children. There were so many of them, and our time was so short. I was able to meet and talk to just a handful of them... some were shy and others were outgoing, but all of them were so precious.
This little boy was named Pastore and he'd only been at COTN for about two weeks. He is severely malnourished, but that will improve over time as his little body adjusts to a healthy diet and he continues in the safe environment provided for him in the children's village. All of the children, like Pastore, came to COTN from horrific circumstances - and most of them would not have lived much longer if COTN hadn't taken them in. Here live 97 little children who have been given a second chance at life.
The thing I came away with as we walked up the hill to return to the office for lunch, was how apparent it is that these kids are not lacking anything. Yes - they are orphans. But they have a wonderful family in each other. They have shelter and food and love and laughter. They are being taught how to run a household by learning how to cook and clean and raise animals and care for each other.
COTN is doing this thing right.
Tejan is SO well cared for. He is surrounded by brothers and sisters who love Jesus and a house mother and aunties who love him like a son. He has older brothers and young men who are investing their hearts and their time to teach him to be a man of God.
It bears repeating: He is not lacking anything.
I wrote in my journal that night: "It is what I came to see."