Trip Start Feb 12, 2006
Trip End May 12, 2008

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Flag of Madagascar  ,
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Daily cost of taking 5 children & their parents over 300 km to change their lives forever: $65.40; Changing a child's life forever: Priceless
This is Fitiavana, his name means "love."  Just one look at him and you can see he will have a hard life. He is seven years old, his legs are bowed from rickets, his face has a terrible deformity and he looks less than half his age. His cleft lip and palate makes his speech hard to understand, but that doesn't deter Fitiavana from chattering away and singing the lyrics to current Malagasy pop songs!  His favorite thing, besides Aaron, was playing in the ocean. Without fear he'd run straight into the ocean. Aaron would scoop him up, put him up by the beach and he'd run right back again. Every time his laughter getting louder and louder. His clothes were soaked, but he didn't care. He'd fall in the sand and be covered from head to toe and still not care. He became Aaron's little buddy. His bowed legs made his walking slow so Aaron was the one who'd carry him wherever we went. In the evenings Aaron would take him out by the road at the house they were staying at. Fitiavana would sit on his knee and they'd talk and watch the night life pass by. Aaron watched all the surgeries from start to finish and carried each of the children out of the operating room when they were finished. It had been a long day at the hospital, three of "our kids" were operated on and Fitiavana was the last of the day. We were tired and it was getting late.  All the fatigue from the day washed away when I saw Aaron dressed head to toe in scrubs carrying this small child sprawled in his arms with a fever, holding the IV tube to his bed, watching over him and caring for him. The doctors could only operate on one side of Fitiavana's face, he is supposed to go back in six months, and hopefully the rest can be finished.
Here is Sandrine, at 12 years she is the oldest of five children. Her head is habitually downcast and held low from years of trying to hide the imperfection on her face. She looks at you through the tops of her eyes and wears a long scarf on her head and uses the ends to cover her mouth. The hole in her mouth and lip distorts her speech and has led to an extreme shyness. She talks only with those close to her in no more than a whisper. Yet she is very smart and a beautiful artist. On the first day I gave her new clothes that my Aunt had sent, the only new clothes she has ever had. On the second day I helped her open her box of milk and showed her how to use a straw. She smiled when the milk reached her mouth. On the third day we went to the beach, I showed her how the sand would cover her feet when she stands still as the waves washed over them. She ran along the beach with Filipine and collected shells.  On the fourth day, I was her new friend. She insisted on carrying my basket over her shoulder and would clasp her fingers between mine as she held my hand tightly wherever we went.   We played the game of UNO together and drew pictures with colored pencils. I walked with her into the hospital, listened to American music on my MP3 to help her relax, held her hand when the doctor drew blood and assured her the pain would be quick. She had surgery on both her palate and her lip, yet she never cried even when she was obviously in pain.  She is a beautiful little girl whose life has been forever changed. 
This is Filipine. She had to walk about 3 miles to school before a new one-room, thatched roof school house was built in her village. Now she walks about one mile two times a day up and down a mountain to and from her home. When Aaron first met her she was filthy, working in the fields in dirty, tattered clothes with a woven hat covering her unkempt braids and a bad facial disfigurement. Two week later she was a new girl. She had ridden in a car, saw an airplane, rode in a rickshaw, sat on a horse, got in the ocean and returned to her town in the countryside like a superstar with crowds gathering around her. She always had a small green cloth in her hand to cover her mouth with and wore a big floppy hat to cover her face. Each day after the surgery she'd look at her face in the mirror the nurses gave her. She would stare and rub her lips together, a sensation she had not known before. Then she would look down, turn the mirror around in her hand and we would find her peeking at Aaron and I. When our eyes caught hers, she would giggle, shyly put her head down and flash a cute smile. She got her first pair of shoes ever and only took them off to clean them. Every time we went out she held my right hand. Many times my grip helped her from tripping and falling as her orange flip-flops scuffed along the roads making a clunking sound wherever she went.  So proud of these flip-flops she wore them for over 7 km along red dirt roads, through rice fields and up a mountain side when she returned home.
This is Jon, when he was born his mother looked at him with his facial deformity and left him and his father. Maybe it is that separation that has created such an inseparable bond between him and his father today. He is seven years old and has never been to school. When the other kids were coloring, he couldn't even hold a pencil or draw an image. He is illiterate like his father. The morning after Jon's surgery, the father looked at us with a sparkle in his eye, a huge smile with missing front teeth and thanked us for finding them. Next year, he said, Jon will go to school because now his lip is fixed and he will be able to talk. Two days after the surgery I heard laughter erupting in the courtyard from one of the children that I had not heard before. I looked around the corner and Jon had seen his reflection in a car mirror, he grabbed the mirror, turned it towards his face, smiled and laughed. The next day he started singing and talking. He finally warmed up to Aaron and I and would give us a big, shy smile when we looked at him.  He ate yogurt for the first time, saw a train, a motorboat and a cargo ship, but one of his favorites was eating ice cream for the first time. On the 9 hour ride home he was so sleepy, but afraid to close his eyes and miss something. They were the first to start the walk home to their village. The father was so proud and couldn't wait to show off his new boy.  
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