Jigger removal is no joke. Sometimes they are found just under the skin and can be removed easily, but sometimes it takes digging deeper.
For babies and toddlers who are in a new environment away from home this can be a terrifying experience. Annah holds her youngest children, back straight and hands firm, as they cry. Our team of nurses and caretakers work as quickly and gently as possible, removing jigger after jigger from between tiny toes and under callouses.
When each child is declared jigger free and their feet washed, disinfected, and bandaged, they hobble away, lollipop in hand.
Hour by hour the life creeps back into these children. Downcast faces began to light up with shy smiles. The quiet that hung like a mist over the house is now dissipated by laughter. As the afternoon progresses, the kids begin begging for a soccer ball.
Annah and her family come from a remote peninsula jutting into Lake Victoria. It’s a 4 hour drive down washed out dirt roads that are impassible in the rain, or a 45 minute easy boat ride from Jinja. Locally it’s considered an island.
It’s a beautiful place. “The children are peaceful, and everyone gets along,” Anna says, her eyes straining to see over our concrete and razorwire compound wall. “Besides the Jiggers, it is a great place to live.”
Annah married a man from her village and they lived together happily. Every year like clockwork she gave birth to another healthy and beautiful child. As they grew, the older kids took care of the younger, they played together in the village and they enrolled in school.
Things were going well… until they weren’t.
Annah’s husband married another woman. For a while, he supported both families, but after a time he left Annah and their seven children. Alone and without resources, Annah became desperate and turned to the only way she knew to feed her family. She began illegally fishing from the lake, catching and selling tilapia that were below the legal size limit.
As she struggled to illegally make ends meet, Annah kept her children fed, but had time and resources for little else. Alone in the dust, being cared for by their oldest sister, 8 year old Gloria, the children slowly became infected with more and more jiggers. They were shamed at school and expelled because having jiggers made them “dirty.”
With no land, no job, no education, and no resources, things were looking pretty bleak for this young family. And yet, there is a fierce pride in Annah: “I am a resourceful and resilient person,” she says. “All of my children are alive and, besides the jiggers, all of them are healthy.”
Last week our social workers picked this family up and brought them to the Sole Hope outreach house. Our team has removed their jiggers, fed them well, and provided them with education on how to stay jigger free for life. They are stronger, healthier, and more optimistic than when they arrived, but our social workers aren’t satisfied.
“We can send them back, but we will be sending them back to nothing” says Adam, Sole Hope’s head social worker. “We must do something more for this family.”
And that’s where we are right now. The kids are swinging on the swingset and kicking a soccer ball, grinning and laughing like I have never seen. Annah is on the porch nursing Rachel. Adam and his team are making a plan.