In her quaint home in the Côte D’Ivoire capitol city of Yamoussoukro - surrounded by papaya, mango and cassava trees - SOS mother Theresa leads us to a wall full of family photos. The image of one unusually small baby immediately attracts the eye.
“That is Loulou* when she first arrived,” Theresa tells us.
“When she was brought to my house that first day the social workers thought that it was a lost cause, and that she would not survive. But I took it upon myself to change that fate.”
Now, against all odds, Loulou has grown into an energetic five-year-old who enjoys life to the full - especially when it comes to dancing, which she adores.
None of this would have been possible without Theresa’s fighting spirit.
“Loulou was born to a 15-year-old mother who died from complications three weeks after giving birth to her,” Theresa explains.
“Her earliest days were very difficult – with a maternal family that didn’t want her and saw her as a bad omen, and a 17-year-old father who could not provide for her.
“After her mother’s death, Loulou’s maternal grandmother gave Loulou to her biological father, who handed her over to his more experienced sister. But her aunt was already taking care of her own baby and couldn’t provide for both.”
LouLou is now a happy, healthy 5-year-old who enjoys dancing.
By the time Loulou joined Theresa’s family she was severely malnourished and showing signs of impaired vision. Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, and it is generally linked to malnutrition. However, with proper care and nutritious food, Theresa soon began to see improvements in the littlest member of her family.
“The treatment was long and exhausting for Loulou, but I would like to think that we went through this difficult time together,” she tells us.
For the next few years Theresa alternated between paediatricians, psychologists and nutritionists to ensure Loulou had a healthy recovery. Finally, when Loulou was two years old she was old enough to begin receiving treatment for her strabismus, commonly known as being cross-eyed.
Today, as she sits on the sofa next to her mother, Loulou is impatient to end our chat so she can go outside and play. Theresa agrees, and as swift as the wind Loulou is out of the house and playing with her friends – their favourite game at the moment is pretending to be ninjas. Theresa just smiles and rolls her eyes at her daughter’s antics – then walks outside to join in with the fun.
Happy Mother’s Day Theresa!
Poverty and political instability have left large numbers of children in Côte D’Ivoire without parental care, and child mortality and malnutrition rates are high. Our village community in Yamoussoukro offers 27 unsupported children the chance to grow up in a safe family-like environment, with an SOS mother and siblings of their own. Theresa has raised nine children at the village, including her two biological children.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the children.