Her name was Esther and she was 12 years old. The fact that she and my 4-year-old daughter shared the same name reminded me that we are all God’s children and this beautiful little girl in so much need was, in a way, my daughter as well.
I, along with other members of our team, had come to Esther’s school (a local elementary) that day to conduct a wound care clinic. Teachers brought children in to see us in an unused classroom that had one rustic desk and a simple wooden bench. Many of the cuts and gashes we treated were on small feet that had walked to school that day over rocks and through trash without shoes. The majority of the children we saw were the younger school children and they laughed and smiled as we talked to them while cleaning dirt and sometimes puss out of their wounds. When my friend Laurence, a teacher at the school, brought Esther to us, I could see despair furrow his brow and pain cloud his eyes as he looked at her. “I don’t know if there’s anything you can do to help her,” he said to me. Her bare feet were swollen and caked with dirt. As I knelt in front of her to look at her feet, her eyes avoided mine as if she were ashamed. My heart broke and I smiled to choke back tears, both because of the horrific state of her feet and the way she seemed to view herself. This 12-year-old girl lived with her mother and younger siblings. They had been abandoned by her father and left to try and support themselves by farming a tiny plot of land. A severe illness as a baby had left her with a crippled hand. Still, she worked hard with her mother on their small plot to grow a little food to eat or sell. This is likely where she contracted jigger fleas—small insects that enter the body through the feet and subsequently cause parts of the body to rot. As horrifying as these sound, they are treatable, and despite the severity of Esther’s condition I knew that we could help her.
While I was concerned for her physical health, I was even more concerned for this little’s girl emotional and social health. It was obvious that her despondency was more than just shyness. We soon discovered that Esther was an outcast at her school because of her physical condition. When someone is treated a certain way for long enough, they begin to believe that they deserve it—someone as young as Esther probably didn’t know anything else. Her rotting feet reminded me of leprosy. Then I remembered how Jesus brought healing. How his love and touch could bring healing not just from a disease but from a social stigma as well. We knew what we needed to do. So kneeling before her, we washed her feet and applied the necessary medicines. Then I made it my goal to make her smile. I would seek her out, hug her, look in her eyes and speak to her in Luganda. We met with her mother to explain how to take care of her feet and prevent this from happening again. Some time passed, the school let out for a break and started back again. Laurence told us that Esther was now playing with other children and participating in her classes. The other kids didn’t avoid her anymore.
Wound care is a large portion of primary health care. The amazing thing is that it is often simple. In Esther’s case, she only needed Epsom salts and an over-the-counter lotion applied with caring hands. Our supplies for the clinic consisted primarily of soap, clean water, and clean rags. Before I left, I was able to instruct the teachers how to clean and care for common wounds and look for signs of infection. The teachers had always wanted to help children like Esther, but didn’t know how, and often believed they couldn’t without expensive supplies.
Not long before our time to leave, I was walking the dirt road to the market and thought I saw someone familiar. I recognized the hair and the walk. I yelled “Esther” and she turned to me and smiled. I almost didn’t recognize this young lady who looked so familiar but acted so differently. Her eyes locked on mine immediately and her smile was beautiful. She was clean and stood up straight. She answered my questions about home and school and smiled again as we said good-bye. Jesus’ example applies to every aspect of the work we do, whether it’s teaching the Bible, health care, or farming. We apply what we have learned from his Word to our work. Because of this, I can say with so much joy that Esther was healed.
Written by Celesta Bargatze