Holding On

by Kelli Hoecker

The sight was not an uncommon one as P’Mam walked through the market while training a new Remember Nhu employee. A young mother with a small child tied securely to her back, meandered through the narrow paths between vibrant stalls filled with assorted goods and a ruckus of people buying and selling, looking to each person she passed to provide a little bit of money. As a mother of two young children, P’Mam looked into the woman’s weary eyes, and felt the weight of this young mother’s burden. With a swelling of empathy and compassion in her heart, P’Mam pulled out what little Thai baht she had in her purse and offered it to the mother. With a slight nod of acceptance the young mother took the money, and in return P’Mam offered a kind smile.

As P’Mam took a small step to continue on her way, she instantly felt something so small and delicate, and yet powerful holding her back. Five tiny fingers grasped her arm and held on with all the little strength they had. Even as P’Mam stopped and turned back towards the young woman, the fingers continued to hold on. P’Mam’s eyes found the little fingers grasping her arm and trailed down the skinny little arm to the small bundle on the young mother’s back. She peeked into the blanket, finding a striking toddler-aged girl: beautiful, big, almond-shaped eyes with a full head of ebony black hair set against pale, too-thin cheeks covered in raised reddish bug bites. As P’Mam felt the pressure and warmth of the little hand gripping her arm and as she looked in to the deep vastness of the little girl’s big eyes, she felt the little girl begging her to hear her story. Though no words had yet been spoken, it only took one little hand and one little look for the sweet little girl to take ahold of P’Mam’s heart.

With a growing conviction that she had been divinely directed to this mother and daughter, P’Mam began a conversation with the young mom. The young mom told P’Mam that she didn’t have a home or job, and she spent her days begging to provide even a little food for her and her daughter, Tessa*. This amounted to maybe 50 to 100 baht (about 1-3 USD) and if they were lucky a small amount of food. The lack of proper nutrition clearly showed in Tessa’s appearance; though just shy of two years old, her size and appearance was that of a child months younger. The young mother was struggling with more than just providing for Tessa and eeking out a minimal existence. She was also struggling to stay healthy enough to stay alive, as she and Tessa’s father both lived with HIV. Tessa had tested negative for the disease, but she sat precariously on the edge of being orphaned by AIDS.

With a look of desperation on her weary face, the young mother offered Tessa to P’Mam for 20,000 baht (about 550 USD). Slightly taken aback, P’Mam quickly considered the implications of what the young mother was offering. As P’Mam’s heart ached to care for Tessa, she knew that she could not buy the little girl. Though she could have the purest intentions for Tessa, paying for a child in any instance is human trafficking. Fortunately, P’Mam was not left hopeless, because she had another solution to honor the young mom’s plea to care for her daughter. P’Mam was a house mom to a dozen other little girls much like Tessa at a Remember Nhu Home of Refuge. She could not buy Tessa, but with the proper paperwork and considerations she and the foundation could offer Tessa a safe and loving place to live. P’Mam explained what she would like to do for Tessa, and begged the mother to meet her again the next day to continue to discuss Tessa’s future.

After discussing Tessa’s situation with the founders of RNhu and gathering the proper paperwork, P’Mam was able to meet with Tessa’s mom the next day. P’Mam walked through the slum that Tessa and her mom called home, and saw the blatant and vast poverty of Tessa’s family and their neighbors. It broke P’Mam’s heart to see the harsh conditions in which Tessa and her neighbors had to live. Though P’Mam didn’t have the resources to help all of the members of the community, she had the ability to help one precious little girl. Five days after her visit to the slum, P’Mam helped Tessa move into her new home with RNhu.

Tessa flourished in her new home, as she received the nutrition and affection she had so often been lacking. She quickly built strong relationships with P’Mam, her family, and her dozen sisters that also lived in the RNhu home. She quickly become the beloved  “baby” of the family, gracing everyone with her vibrant and playful personality. Within two years of moving into the RNhu home, RNhu became the only family that Tessa had when both Tessa’s mother and father passed away from AIDS.

Now five years old, Tessa still loves to hold onto P’Mam and any other person who will pull her into their arms and offer her a hug and smile, but she is holding on to so much more. She is holding on to a life that represents a story of redemption. What could have been a tragic moment in her young life if she had fallen into the wrong hands, was redeemed with the love and commitment of P’Mam and RNhu. She is holding on to security. As Tessa embraces her home and her RNhu family, they are also embracing her and providing for all of her needs: physically, educationally, emotionally, and spiritually. She is holding on to the freedom. Though her story could have been one in which she was a slave to her poverty or possibly to another person, she is living with the freedom to be a five-year-old little girl with a bright future ahead of her. She is holding on to hope. As Tessa lives in safety and love, she can look into the future with excitement and expectation.
Tessa could have never known that her five little fingers reaching out would change the course of her story so significantly. She didn’t know, but the One who is Love, the Author of Life, knew her story and chose to began a new chapter in her life that day. Now each and everyday, Tessa is living into this new story of security, freedom, and hope. Tessa is holding on to a life forever changed.