A Farewell, and a Lesson in Smiling

Today was a happy day, but also a bittersweet one.

Today, three-year-old Seithati went home.

This means the tiny, malnourished little girl we found in February progressed so far at TTL in the last three months – she went from just 13 pounds to more than 20 pounds – that she was healthy and strong enough to go back to her village and receive continuing TTL support from there. She was reunited with her grandmother and the rest of her family this afternoon.

This morning, she danced in the play room when she heard the news she was headed home, excited for the reunion. Again, it was a happy day.

Still, at the same time, Seithati’s departure also means the safe home has lost its most gregarious tenant. Seithati is undeniably a character, one who brightened the room at any given moment with her easy laugh, warm smile and quirky habits.

She was closest in age to Nteboheng, who is five, and the two girls had developed a strong bond during their time here together. Today, Nteboheng lost her closest buddy, the one who had comforted her when she first arrived. For Nteboheng, today was a sad day, and she cried much of the morning.

And, while I am fully aware of the success Seithati’s departure indicates and the great work TTL did for her, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of sadness at her departure as well.

It was my first week here, on just my second outreach trip, that we found Seithati at a rural clinic. Our starts here at TTL were only a few days apart, our overall time here has essentially coincided, and for that we had a special connection.

My name is a tricky one for young Basotho to pronounce, and Seithati called me what sounded like “Ntate Kebeny.” I’m not sure where she got the last syllable, but she seemed to like it and wouldn’t drop it despite corrections from Nteboheng.

Whenever I went into the playroom, Seithati would catch my eye, laugh and walk over to me with her arms in the air. I’d pick her up, and she’d say her version of my name as she wrapped her small fingers around one of my own and smiled. I’d put her down again and we’d start some sort of game where I would act strange and she would squeal with laughter.

When it was finally time for her to go this morning, you could tell she was starting to get nervous, but in her sweet little way, she was also clearly making an effort to smile, as if she were trying to comfort all the adults around her. And in a way, at least for me, it worked…

I handed her over to Matello, who was waiting in the outreach car, and waved.

“Bye-bye,” I said.

“Bye-bye,” Seithati said back, with her own little wave.

When she got home, according to our outreach team, her grandmother cried at seeing her – overcome by emotion at how healthy and beautiful her little granddaughter looked. In classic Seithati fashion, my little buddy apparently looked around at the adults and asked everyone what all the commotion was about.

I’m so happy we found her back in February. I’m happy she has thrived, and that we will continue to support her. I hope her future is as bright as her potential. I’m glad TTL will continue finding children like Seithati, who we can help out of malnutrition or illness and toward the future they deserve.

I’m also happy my life overlapped with Seithati’s for the short time it did. In her special way, she taught me something about smiling no matter what, despite daunting unfamiliarity, and in the face of an uncertain future – an invaluable lesson to learn.


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