By Rebecca Pratt, President and Co-Founder
Holding a starving baby girl weighing only 4.4 lbs as a five month old was heart wrenching. As I held this little one, named Lucresse, in my arms she was panting fast and quick shallow breaths as if at any minute she would take her last. I honestly did not know what to do. I sat down and placed my hand on her chest and began to pray. “Oh God, please help this little girl. If it be your will, spare her life and give this little one comfort and peace”. As I prayed her breathing became normal and peaceful. Once my prayer was over, her panting started up again. I sat dumbfounded, not knowing what to do next. I knew Lucresse would soon die without immediate intervention. She was starving and dehydrated.
My motherly instinct was screaming for me to rush her to the nearest hospital, but a quiet sense deep in my heart that I felt was God’s quiet voice, was guiding me to do the very opposite.
This encounter happened in Oct. of 2013 in a village in Benin where we had just begun our anti trafficking efforts in the rural areas where the life of a child had no real value. Mothers were selling their children for a mere 20 dollars due to poverty and not having the means to feed all their children. Selling their children so that they could have relief from feeding and caring for an extra mouth became a way of life for these villagers. This was just a way of survival.
In a meeting where I was sharing with a group of mothers why they should not traffic their children, this tiny baby girl caught my attention.
No one seemed alarmed by this little one’s condition, and in their mind if this baby died due to her mother working in the fields all day and only feeding her one time each night, well it was simply the will of the gods that destined this child to die. In their minds her death would not have anything to do with a negligent mother.
With a heavy heart that evening a plan came to mind to task one of our female anti trafficking team members to oversee Lucresse’s health, along with this little one’s mother. She was also tasked to teach all the women in this area how to take care of their babies and to share about the value of life.
Lucresse and her mother had a four-week stay in the hospital getting her up to eight pounds, and hours of oversight by our team member. With every village mother watching this situation extensively, women were getting trained on how to take care of their babies. Lucresse was weighed in front of the villagers weekly, and extensive teachings were given to all the mothers of the village on how to take care of their babies and how to help each other to take care of their little ones.
Fast forward to this month in January of 2016. To my shock and amazement just two year’s later we are seeing a huge culture shift due to our anti-trafficking and micro-loans in this village. Not only have we been able to stop the trafficking of children, given over 80 women micro-loans so they can begin to feed their own children, but we are also now seeing mothers caring for their young ones. Sitting and listening to these ladies testimonies of their huge life transformations is unbelievable.
On this recent visit to Benin, the mothers were very eager to tell us how thankful they were. With a sense of pride they presented Lucresse to me to show me how well she was doing. In this same room, where Lucresse was once dying and no one was alarmed, I was watching women eager to show us how much they have changed and how they have come to understand that their children are important.