Saline and Duncan have been here for about a month now and I know that many of you would like to know more about them. Saline is a very sweet loving child who has been neglected most of her life. Being born with a facial deformity in a small village has created many challenges for her. As you would expect, her self-esteem is very poor and she rarely gives you direct eye contact. Her father passed away last year and I’m told her mother is overwhelmed. I’ve spent many hours talking with Duncan, her teacher, advocate and all-around great caring man, about life in the villages of Africa. It was hard for me to believe that so many people are living without the basic necessities of life such as clean water or electricity. They bathe and drink from a nearby river stream – not the most ideal sanitary conditions. Much of the little money that most families earn at the market is spent on kerosene for occasional evening lighting. Most children do not attend school regularly as they are needed for household chores such as gathering firewood for cooking, etc. For those that do attend, the schools do not have enough teachers or books for all children. The children with physical or mental challenges are essentially neglected.
Duncan is married with five young children of his own. He is well educated and very well spoken and lives in a village adjacent to Saline’s. He met Saline in the classroom about five years ago and has become her surrogate father, friend and medical advocate. It was through his efforts to bring Saline to the local Smile Train screening that I was first contacted. He has taken time away from his family to bring her to all of her local hospital visits and embassy interviews. He has become her legal guardian in order to accompany her on her journey here. None of this would ever be happening without Duncan. Neither of them has ever been on an airplane or even in a private car before.
Despite all the challenges she faces, Saline likes to hold hands and is just a 12 year-old kid. We are not sure of her real age because she has no birth certificate. She likes to play outside and definitely has a good sense of humor. Earlier this week Duncan, Saline and I took a long walk along the Port Jefferson harbor. As we walked I looked over at Saline, gave her a light thump on the shoulder and smiled. She looked up momentarily and then looked down and kept walking. About 30 seconds later, I got a not-so-light thump on my shoulder as she looked up and smiled. One step at a time!