making my way to the holy land
Last summer, my beautiful best friend, Brianna, told me about a place in Israel. She shared with me all the courageous mamas and the brave children who came from all over the world to get life-saving heart surgeries. It was with love in her eyes that convinced me to travel 6,000 miles across the world to open the doors to the home of Save A Child’s Heart.
And it was incredible.
As a live-in volunteer, I shared a 9,687 square foot home with Kenyans, Ethiopians, Tanzanians, Romanians, Nigerians, Israelis, Americans and Australians. And we were all here for the same reason, to literally save a child’s heart. These children ranged from 4 months to 24 years old, all battling with congenital or rheumatic heart diseases but you would never know that based on their joyous and lively personalities.
Every mama and child that walks through the gates of the SACH home carry a story with them and it was the stories that stayed with me.
Faith, a little girl from Kenya who was abandoned by her parents and taken in by her aunt only to be starved and abused for years before a woman, who she now calls mom, rescued her. As if she hasn’t battled enough in her four years, she was diagnosed with a type of congenital heart disease called Tetralogy of Fallot. But, this little girl is a force of nature with a smile that makes you feel grateful to be alive. We all joke and say that, “it’s Faith’s world and we are all living in it.”
Barira, 5, and Yirda, 9, are both kids from Ethiopia who made their 1,500 mile trip to Holon, Israel without their family. Imagine being that young and traveling to a foreign country to get open-heart surgery without the physical comfort of your parents. However, they both gained 20+ siblings and mamas to fight and celebrate this journey with. With a tremendous amount of bravery and a fearless personality, they’ll both soon be going home to their families with a fixed heart.
And there’s Zena and Muqadam, this mama and son duo from Tanzania who have both captured my heart from day one. Muqadam dances to the beat of his own name, he gives kisses on your hand like a true gentleman and he loves his beautiful mama. At 2 and half years old, he’s already spent half of his life in the hospital. Muqadam battled a stroke at one year, leaving him half paralyzed. Shortly after, he received surgery to close a hole in his heart which led to getting tracheostomy. And today, this little boy amazes all of us with the way he loves and his mom is clearly her son’s biggest fan.
In a world where we are constantly reminded of our differences, SACH challenges that by being an organization that is not divided by race, religion, politics or gender differences. In my two short weeks, I quickly realized that life in the SACH home is how life should be everywhere. There was a woman who greeted me every single morning and every single night with a warm smile and a big hug yet I’ve never carried a conversation with her. She is a Muslim woman from Ethiopia who speaks Amharic and I am a Hindu woman from United States who speaks English. In spite of our differences, it was the language of kindness that brought us together. This is a home where gestures speaks louder than words, where we celebrate successful surgeries with a dance, and where love never runs out.
On another note, with this being my first time in Israel, I had the chance to explore the Holy Land and to put it simply, it was magical.
From the golden historic sights of Jaffa to the bustling nightlife that thrives in Tel Aviv to the feeling of peace in Jerusalem to floating in the Dead Sea at sunset to the whimsical view of Ein Gedi from the mountains, it is easy to say that Israel charmed me. Although, my biased opinion leads me to believe that the best kind of magic lives right in the home of Save A Child’s Heart in Holon.
I don’t know if this blog post will ever fully express just how incredible this experience was. As I get older, I like to think I am becoming more mature, independent and stronger. Yet at 23, I can’t say I have half of the maturity, bravery and resilience these mothers and children show everyday. I can’t think of a better word to describe these children other than they are warriors, little but fierce and brave warriors. I still can’t believe I was lucky enough to be in Israel in the presence of all these people.
As I left the gates of the Save A Child’s Heart home with sobbing eyes, one of the older kids wiped my tears away and left me with a message.
“Always in ma heart sita”
And to Ferdinand, Bikambo, Khadijah, Muqadam, Denis, Rose, Faith, Kennedy, Sandra, Sean, Mariamawit, Wengalawit, Rewany, Tigest, Mati, Milkias, Yirda, Betamaryam, Barira, Kalid, Neftali, Chikamma and Raphaella,
you are all in mine.