Deolinda Rodrigues de Almeida

“Your African children…”

Lion watermark

Dear Deolinda,

Today I looked through piles of photographs from my three years in Angola, looking for images of you, again trying to find a hint of the incredible commitment of your life to your people. Did it begin with the children in the day care center where you and I worked together?

Children watering plants with tin cansThere are scenes of the children, dressed in their little uniforms that somehow each family managed to provide as part of their aspirations for their young children: that they would grow up and leave what most Americans consider miserable poverty. Like parents everywhere, they hoped for a better life for their children.

So there you were, overseeing an outdoor activity as the small children awkwardly hauled containers of water to give life to the little garden they had planted, symbolizing seeds of hope for those young lives.

There were so many first-time experiences for the innocent and expectant children. In the small building in the African sector of the city that we rented for day care, we had no room for desks or even individual chairs. The children had never seen Crayolas. And when I presented each child with a mimeographed sketch of some biblical character to color, they simply used the benches as table space and knelt on the dirt floor, joyously giving colorful life to the simple scenes.

Your joy at the children's reaction was pure joy to me. What a gift!

For classes with other smaller children in the neighborhood the parents had no money for uniforms. The mothers left early in the morning every day for the long walk beyond the city perimeter to plant mandioca (cassava), the staple food for Angolan families. They carried with them crude tools for digging and weeding and eventually harvesting the root crops that would be ground into flour. Having someone care for their children while they undertook this arduous and time-consuming task was a great help to them.

I worried that these toddlers had no underpants, running to and fro with no concerns for their nudity. I mentioned the bare bottom predicament in letters home to my family. Within weeks, my mother had spread the word about the nakedness of these poor “heathen” children, and to my embarrassment, sent missionary barrels of underwear to distribute to the bottomless kids.

Deolinda, you never gave birth to children of your own. But now I am beginning to understand that you may have thought of yourself as the mother of all Angola’s children.

Angola postage stamp