By the light coming in the window Sandy McDonald could see that the child was not a baby, yet he was in a crib and wore a make-shift diaper made from a hospital blanket.
“As I approached he reached out. I went in, and he wrapped his arms around my neck,” Sandy said. Immediately, her training as a nurse told her the boy had Cerebral Palsy and some sort of developmental delay. But what was he doing alone at the end of the labyrinth of hallways in the children’s ward?
Sandy, who was on a medical mission to Zimbabwe to repair cleft palates, sought out the head nurse and began to ask questions. Tinotenda—Tino for short—had been living in the hospital since he was left there when he was three months old. Now seven, he could only walk by holding on to a hand or furniture. He could not feed himself or speak.
He had never been outside.
Sandy began visiting him daily, taking him for long walks through the hospital hallways and eventually venturing outside for the first time. “He immediately had his hands in the dirt like any kid,” Sandy said.
But Tino’s future looked grim. The head nurse said the hospital could keep him until he turned eighteen, but then he would be turned out on to the street.
“I was beside myself,” Sandy said. She would be returning to Portland, Oregon, in less than two weeks. That didn’t give much time to figure out how to help Tino, but she was determined to try. Sandy had already planned to visit friends at a Jesuit mission and while there began to inquire about their orphanage. But it clearly was not a place for a little boy who was so far behind developmentally.
Sandy took her story to the priest in charge of the mission. He listened thoughtfully and then said, “Have you ever heard of L’Arche?”
Sandy’s jaw dropped. Not only had she heard of L’Arche, she and her husband had been part of the group that started L’Arche in Portland and had been volunteering there for more than 25 years.
In spite of bounced emails and poor cell phone reception, she was able to connect with the community. They were on the verge of finishing a second home, and Tino would be welcome to move in within the month.
A year later, Sandy returned for a four-day visit to L’Arche Zimbabwe. “We pulled in to the yard and there he was looking out the window,” Sandy said. “I went in to the room and knelt down. He was talking to me and he wrapped his arms around me.”
In that one year, Tino had learned to walk and speak, and politely cleared his dishes from the table at the end of each meal.
The greatest gift, Sandy said, was that Tino was no longer alone. He had met another little boy named Blessing. “They have become best friends. They’re always together.”