Her first days are shrouded in mystery. Nobody knows who Mahalakshmi’s parents are. Was she born on a cold cement floor? Was her father in the room to hear her first cries? Did her mother look into Mahalakshmi’s brown eyes? Did she have brothers and sisters?
What kind of desperation hung in the air that day? While we don’t know the details of Mahalakshmi’s birth, we do know the events that followed just a few hours later. That someone took Mahalakshmi to a patch of dirt in the small southeast Indian village of Kamaraj Nagar and left her there, bleeding, in a thicket of thorns. That while she lay there screaming, a wild animal attacked her, causing her to lose an eye.
That ants crawled over her, biting her tender skin. Little Mahalakshmi lay in the hot sun, fighting for her life.
The commotion over Mahalakshmi’s discovery that morning 11 years ago was loud enough to draw a crowd. People walked out of their homes and stood at a distance. They whispered, speculated, murmured about the evil spirits that must have caused this horrible tragedy. But nobody moved to pick her up. Most adults in Kamaraj Nagar had children of their own — children they struggled to feed and clothe on less than $2 a day. And all of them believed that the newborn infant would die.
Geetha and her husband, Palani, heard the noise and approached the fringes of the group. They pushed through the crowd until Geetha finally saw Mahalakshmi. She glanced around. Will no one help this tiny, helpless child? she wondered. And almost before she knew what was happening, Geetha stepped forward, scooped up the bloody and broken baby, held her close to her chest, and walked home.
As Geetha cleaned Mahalakshmi’s wounds and applied ointment to the cuts, she pondered what she had done. She already had a son, an active little boy for whom they could barely provide. Palani worked as a plumber, but he went for weeks without jobs.
The family often skipped meals; Geetha had gone to bed hungry more times than she could count. As Geetha tenderly cared for Mahalakshmi, she believed she had made the right decision. But her resolve would be tested in the coming months. Mahalakshmi required extensive medical care, and bills from her hospital visits piled up. At times, Geetha couldn’t even afford milk for the child and would feed her sugar water from a bottle.
“I remember the times we didn’t have enough to eat,” says Geetha. “We had no food, and we would pour water into the leftover rice and keep it until evening and have it as rice gruel.”
Was it possible, Geetha wondered, that she had saved Mahalakshmi only to watch her starve?
For two years the family lived on the brink of collapse, never able to get ahead. But then Geetha heard about a program in the village that helped families like hers who struggled through desperate poverty. Compassion’s Child Survival Program, she learned, ministered to infants or toddlers and their mothers. Geetha didn’t waste a moment to meet with the program staff. She and Mahalakshmi were enrolled immediately, and suddenly Geetha felt the burden finally begin to lift. The child’s medical bills were now covered, and soon they had vegetables, milk and meat to eat. A new mosquito net hung over the bed in their small home to protect the family from malaria. For the first time, Geetha felt hope. Maybe there was a future for her family after all.
Into this relative peace, though, came tragedy once again. Geetha’s husband, the family’s sole provider, suddenly deserted her and their two young children.
“We were shattered and our hearts were broken,” Geetha remembers. “I had several questions in my mind — how can we live without him and how can I take care of my children?” The staff of the Child Survival Program encouraged Geetha, provided vocational training, and offered support. Once again, Geetha persevered. And she saw her perseverance pay off when Mahalakshmi joined Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program at the age of 4.
“I thank God for Compassion,” Geetha says. “They have taught me to surrender everything into the hands of the almighty God. Compassion is supporting us and we are living peacefully today.”
Seven years have passed since Geetha’s husband abandoned her to raise their children alone. Today, Mahalakshmi is a beautiful 11-year-old who loves to sing and is always surrounded by friends and family. She wants to be a doctor when she grows up.
“Because Mahalakshmi is in the program, I have no worries about her at all, be it food, clothing, or her education and her future,” Geetha says.
The miracles of Mahalakshmi’s life are not lost on her. While her birth is shrouded in mystery, she sees clearly the love of her mother — the woman who literally rescued her when nobody else would step forward. And she knows the love of the Father — who has a bigger plan for her life than she can even dream.
Practical help, eternal hope
The Child Survival Program is unique because a local church provides practical help through personal, in-home visits. The program makes a direct impact on survival through:
Prenatal care: Moms receive medical care, dietary supplements and education. They learn about fetal development, childbirth and breast-feeding.
Food: Moms receive nutritious food and training in balanced meal planning, hygienic food preparation and basic nutrition.
Health care: We treat children’s diseases and infections. We also teach caregivers preventive care and how to recognize symptoms so they can intervene. Each mother and child receives checkups and updated health records.
Infant survival training: We teach moms about sterilizing baby bottles, childproofing their homes, and discipline.
Education: Caregivers are given the opportunity to learn to read, write, and develop a trade skill to help them provide for their families.
Faith Community: All the benefits of the Child Survival Program are delivered through a local church, so children and caregivers are surrounded by a caring community.