Three years ago I met a Nigerian lady called Efe. She had sold almost everything she owned, scooped up her 4 daughters and travelled over 3,500 miles (as the crow flies) to Derby to study business. Of course crows don’t actually fly from Nigeria to Britain so it was a considerable journey, and took a huge amount of guts and courage.
A local social worker asked me to invite Efe round for coffee as her daughter, Shalom, had recently been diagnosed as profoundly deaf and was the same age as Smiling flower. Shalom was four yrs old and had no language or communication. I picked up Efe at the Deaf school and she sat in my kitchen looking out at the sheds in the garden and asking; who lived in those? We were from different places…. but I knew from my time volunteering in Uganda that it was perfectly reasonable to expect whole families to live in houses the size of our small garden sheds.
Efe is a remarkable woman. She risked everything to give her daughters the hope of a better future. She completed her business course whilst caring single handedly for her four girls and working as a carer in a nursing home to put food on the table and pay the rent (she shared a two bedroom house with another family). Whilst here, Shalom’s deafness was investigated and she was offered a cochlear implant. Efe, of course, agreed. Who wouldn’t in her situation?
Meanwhile we, as a family, were being hugely impacted by their situation. We saw a lot of Shalom as she quickly became smiling Flower’s first true friend.We gave her lifts to school, she came to play, we supported them in every way we could. Shalom, got under our skin and began to feel like extended family. We all adored her and she slotted into our lives as if she was always meant to be there. She picked up sign language quickly and was starting to learn to speak with her implants.
And then Efe had finished the course, the visa expired and they went back to Nigeria.
That was two years ago. There is barely a day that goes by when Shalom doesn’t come into my mind, when I don’t think about her and her struggles as a deaf child in Nigeria. She is privileged to have an incredible Mum who has defied the stigma of disability in Nigeria and fought for her daughter. In addition with the help of family and friends in Britain we have funded her in a Montessori school who try their best to meet her needs. They are so grateful for this support.
But we are forgetting the crow… I recently saw this image in the National Geographic and was stunned by the way it projected the crows courage, determination and intelligence… In 2015, photographer Phoo Chan captured images of a bald eagle hunting for food in Seabeck, Washington, when a crow approached the flying bald eagle from behind, landed on its back and stayed put for a quick rest. McGowan, a biologist specialising in crow behaviour, says territorial birds don’t normally get too close, but this particular crow probably found itself in the eagle’s draft and settled in for the ride.
A friend of mine used to say that life doesn’t go in straight lines. Neither have I ever seen a crow fly in a particularly straight line… Shalom’s ability to hold onto her hearing certainly doesn’t have a straightforward path at the moment. The cochlear company give a three year warranty on their implants and this expired this month (August ’17). So no more sending broken parts off and hoping to receive a replacement in the post. One implant isn’t working as I write this and if the other becomes temperamental or is lost, Shalom will once again become completely isolated.
I often reflect on the morality of implanting a four year old girl, giving her sound for the first time, and then failing to provide for the maintenance of that technology. But this is the situation. These are the limits of a national, not international, NHS, and company warranties.
In contrast, my heart doesn’t have a limit on it when it comes to Shalom. I cannot but help to continue fighting for this girl who, with her beautiful smile and strong hugs, was the first to give Smiling Flower friendship.
This planet we inhabit is huge and Shalom feels so far away. But I know that people’s hearts can shrink this world into a place where three and a half thousand miles don’t count, where the privilege of being born into affluence can be used to give others freedom and opportunity, where our neighbour can be anyone, anywhere, that we choose to stand alongside. Big planets scare and overwhelm me but small worlds fill me with hope. If you are still reading I wonder whether inside of you there something of the spirit of the bald headed eagle. Shalom and her Mum really need a break, a rest from the stress of their limited resources. If you have £5 or £10 spare this month please click here and help secure Shalom’s hearing: