The bus bumped and bucked its way down the steep gravel road, navigated a turn off a bridge so tight I am sure our back tire lost contact with the road, and rolled to a stop halfway down the straw-strewn lane. Sheep grazed in a field to our right; to our left the ground dropped away to a dry river bed dotted with bluish-leaved trees (they remind me of eucalyptus trees).
A little boy, looked about 5, came running down the lane towards us, following closely by a girl. They wore matching grins, hands outstretched to greet us.
“Ola!” he cried, bouncing to each of us in turn.
I sensed us all relax immediately at his easy manner. Some of our visits had been a little awkward – shy kids and inability to speak Spanish and all. I suppressed a giggle as he hiked his sweat pants up while chatting up the bus driver.
Around the bend in the lane, we saw two benches set out in a V, covered with fleece blankets. Behind them an arch of dried branches was fixed to the veranda extended out from the house. A Quechua (KECH-wah) woman, wearing a dark pink dress, sweater, and white wide-brimmed hat in the traditional manner, waved us to the benches with a smile.
Using two interpreters (Quechua to Spanish and Spanish to English), Celestina began sharing the story of her World Vision miracle.
Wilfram wasn’t as young as he looked. He was born 11 years ago with Down’s Syndrome into an extremely poor family. He barely grew, never learned to talk, and passed out if he walked further than 20 feet. His mother carried him in a homemade sling everywhere she went. The suffering was great – she had other children and a farm to care for, and “her husband wasn’t around during those hard days.” (An oft-repeated refrain.)
Neighbors in the community were not supportive. She sobbed as she said, “They told me that I must have done something, drank alcohol when I was pregnant, to make him this way.”
Then Wilfram was accepted into the World Vision program. Every child receives yearly medical check-ups and it was there that the doctor who examined him discovered that not only did he have Down’s, but he had a congenital heart defect that kept him from getting the oxygen he needed and made his heart work extra hard. His heart was enlarged and his lungs were damaged. Finally they knew why he couldn’t run and play, why his development was so delayed.
Wilfram was dying. But the doctors determined that he was still a candidate for heart surgery, and after World Vision evaluated his family’s desperate situation, they agreed to cover all the costs associated with his surgery out of their medical emergency fund.
I asked his mom how she felt the day she had to leave him in the operating room.
“I didn’t understand what they were doing or what was going on. I was afraid that he wouldn’t make it through the surgery. But I prayed to God and I said, ‘God, if you want me to keep being Wilfram’s mother, you can get him through this. And if it is time for him to go, that is ok too.’ I gave him to God that day, and God and World Vision gave him and us his life back.”
Wilfram is finally thriving. He is strong enough to go to school and as he showed off his workbook, he looked at us with an “It’s good, right?” expression and a little thumbs-up over the page. Elizabeth gave him a thumbs-up back, and tipped her thumb towards his in a finger high-five.
That became our greeting and farewell, along with kisses from Wilfram, that afternoon.
He cares for a pair of chickens (given to him from the World Vision catalog) and showed us how he feeds them and kicks the rooster away from the hen’s feed. He plays a rousing game of soccer.
Celestina is a leader in her community now. The doctor told us that if they plan a workshop for the women, they just tell Celestina and everyone comes. She is able to work her fields, growing a variety of potatoes (which she brought out to share with us), raising sheep and chickens, and caring for her granddaughter. In an area where so many people collapse under the weight of their challenges, she stood strong. She was so thankful for God, for World Vision, and for each one of you who give so that children like Wilfram can live.