I never caught her name; nonetheless, I still wake up thinking about her. Her pleading gaze haunts me. Although her beautiful eyes shone with hope, her momentary excitement was clouded by something deeper – pain. For a fleeting moment I felt her agony; in that moment, I felt helpless to save her.
Honorable Mention 2010 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
An old Yiddish proverb says, “The eyes are the mirror of the soul.” My brief encounter with the little girl reflected this aphorism; her penetrating eyes allowed me to experience her innermost feelings. I met others like her on the Runners for Hope mission trip to Nabwendo, a small village in Uganda. For example, there was the orphan who smiled and laughed with joy as I picked her up and held her in my arms. There was also the little boy who sat in the grass by himself, slowly leafing through his new notebook. I keep thinking of the barefooted boy with the bulging stomach. They all had one thing in common – the pain stricken eyes.
I wonder what the kids saw in my eyes. Did they see the teenage girl who felt way out of her element? Did they see my inner conflict? I found it so unfair that I was able to enjoy all of the luxuries of American life while they, by their birth, were stuck in a small village with no running water, sanitation, or commodities of American life. Did they see the girl who wanted to change the situation but felt so helpless to do so? Did they even look in my eyes or were they too enthralled by my skin color?
On the day I met the nameless girl with the piercing eyes, our mission team was distributing shoes, clothes, and school supplies to the children of Green Hill School in Nabwendo. When she came up to me, we were running low on supplies. The few shirts still lying in the grass were huge – they would have swallowed her whole! We had already decided to stop trying to fit every child with shoes; the task took too long and few shoes remained. However, as I looked at her dirty, blistered feet, I became determined to find that little girl some shoes. I could not justify sending her home barefooted when most of the other kids had gotten shoes that day.
Grabbing her hand, I said a quick prayer, begging God to help me find her some shoes. My prayer was answered. The very first pair of shoes she tried on fit perfectly! When she looked me in the eyes, I could tell something had changed. There was a flicker of hope, a glimmer of happiness in her eyes. I continued walking with the girl. I gave her a pack of paper, some pencils, and crayons. She stared in wonder at the colors; she was shocked by all of her new belongings.
I began to walk away from my little friend; it was time for me to help another child. As I turned my back, she came up to me, grabbed my hand, and said in her broken English, “A dolly, please?” She pointed to the plastic little dolls in the bag of McDonald’s toys and began to walk toward them. When I gave her a doll, a smile began to creep across her face! Her eyes shone as she held the doll in here arms.
Take a minute. Gaze into my eyes. You will see a changed person. You will see a girl who has come to realize that the little things like McDonald’s toys that are taken for granted by some are treasured by others. You will see a girl who has learned that although sadness cannot be completely wiped away, it can be assuaged by small acts of kindness. Look into my eyes and you will see my soul, forever changed by the children of Nabwendo, Uganda.
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