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A Birthday to Remember

Written by Susan Valiquette
March 28, 2006

The HIV and AIDS pandemic in kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa is devastating and crippling to individuals, families, and society. This is one child's story who was left orphaned by AIDS.

My son attended a birthday party of a friend after school, and our family had an invitation to celebrate a 1st birthday party of a teacher's son at the school where I have been appointed as a missionary. It was also the birthday of the most senior minister in the Region who turned 80, and it would have been my late grandmother's birthday. My grandmother was my ultimate mentor in the faith; I am still trying to attain her selflessness.

We left the first party early so we could begin the next. As I entered the school gate, the security stopped to tell me that there was a child from the community waiting to see me. I was already late for the 1st birthday party so I took my children to the party, and then I went to the gate to attend to the child.

The child, let us call her Mandy, was carrying a very small plastic bag with the only clothes she owned. She was without shoes and looking forlorn. She explained that her mother died more than two years ago so she had been staying with her aunt. In addition, she didn't know who her father was. The Aunt was living in someone else's home as the caretaker. The Aunt announced earlier in the week that she was moving because the homeowners were returning. The Aunt made it clear that Mandy would not be coming with her and her children. Mandy was not welcome. Mandy didn't believe what she heard, but the end of the week came and the Aunt moved and left Mandy alone and homeless on her 14th birthday. Yes, another birthday on the same day. I would not have believed Mandy, but she had no knowledge of all the birthdays in my life that day. It only led me to ask myself, "What would my grandmother have done?"

The school's outreach and networking in the community was about to pay off. Mandy and I traveled a short distance to an old age home/orphanage (Abalindi). No one in authority was available to accept Mandy in the home because it was after hours on the weekend, but we phoned the Director, and he promised a place at the home for Mandy. We simply needed to go to the social worker on Monday morning and open a case. Mandy stayed with my family for the weekend.

During the weekend, I contacted another organization that houses children who have been orphaned to AIDS. I spoke to the woman in charge, and she also promised a place for Mandy. I was overwhelmed by the possibilities and the welcome by two places. Thousands of children are orphaned as a result of AIDS in South Africa without a home or family members to care for them. Mandy had two options. "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10

Mandy now lives at the home for children orphaned by AIDS. The home is intimate, well-resourced, and they will be able to provide individual care for Mandy. Mandy said that before her mother died that she promised that she would always be with her. Mandy felt strongly that her mother had played a role in the events that unfolded that day. I believe strongly that God played a role that day. Before Jesus died he left his peace with his disciples and us, "so that in me you may have peace. In the world, you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" John 16:33 I don't know if I did what my grandmother would have done, but I do know this was a birthday to remember.

Submitted by Reverend Susan M. Valiquette, Chaplain at Inanda Seminary

Seconded to Inanda Seminary, all-girls boarding high school, established by the American Board in 1869 in Durban, South Africa

Scott Couper and Susan Valiquette are missionaries serving in South Africa. Scott serves with the UCCSA as pastor at a UCCSA congregation in Durban. Susan serves with the Inanda Seminary in KwaZuluNatal, South Africa as chaplain.

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