It marked one year since we started teaching at the little slum under the bridge. I wanted to try something special for them. We ended up making our way over in the morning with a bag of gifts in one hand and Shakeenah doing her stern Santa impression in the other.
It was a rarity to have Peregrine and Shakeenah over and the students mobbed us. We formed a huddle on the cement and Peregrine shared her Christmas story, lingering on Jesus’s birth into a poor family, among the animals, in a difficult situation. Some kids were focused and interested, others just cooed at the little santa-hatted munchkin.
After the story we revealed that out of our happiness for Christmas we had some gifts we wanted to share, but each would be delivered to their own homes. I had prepared 25 bags with a children’s book matching each student’s reading level and interests, a pen, a little assortment of chocolates, and a few fruits. It was a small gift but I hoped they could feel it was personal.
Peregrine told her story three times in three different parts of the slum, and I distributed 24 of the bags to their intended recipients. The kids were gracious and quite well-mannered. Seeing that I had one bag left over, I noticed Joy, a little five-year-old who was a bit too immature to start and had been dropped from our program some months earlier.
Joy’s family situation flashed through my head. The family suffered from extreme poverty. For most of the last year her baby sister had been ill and they were uncertain if she would survive. Then out of nowhere her other sister, just three years old, died after four days of fever. The family blamed her death on profound neglect from the hospital she was taken to two days before she died. A couple weeks later Joy herself was badly bitten by what people labeled a “crazy dog”, necessitating a month of painful rabies shots and leaving her with an enormous scar. By the grace of God both Joy and her littlest sister have recovered but the family remains in a precarious situation, living on dirt under the least of cover in a cold winter.
It made sense that the last bag should be for Joy. I walked up to her and her mom to give it. I then turned back to Peregrine and Shakeenah to wrap things up.
As we left past Joy’s house I noticed the disabled woman who lives in a makeshift lean-to, an older lady who struggles to walk and appears to have mental issues as well. She may well be the poorest person in the area. I thought it would be a nice gesture to give her something too. My gift bags were gone but I had a few leftover apples and oranges. The older woman’s eyes lit up and a smile broke out as I handed her the last of our fruits. She opened her hands to receive them, and with that revealed that someone had beaten me to her.
In her hand was the best of the chocolates that I had given Joy.