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Madona's Dream
Madona is 13 and has a smile that lights her face.
 
 
Madona would like to go somewhere else, to a place where she would have more room, “where we could sleep without being piled on top of each other” -- somewhere cleaner, too, because here there’s no water and she must walk a long way outside the camp in order to wash herself. Above all, she’d like to return to school, “like before…”

Someday she’d like to be a doctor. I ask her why she’s chosen this profession: “Because there are lots of people helping us. I’d like one day to be able to help the poor, too.
 
© 1998-2001 Reuters Limited./ CARE - USA
Source: NGO latest / Loetitia Raymond

Madona is 13 and has a smile that lights her face. And yet, after the tsunami hit Batticaloa, on the east coast of Sri Lanka, she lost her house, her toys, many of her friends, and, above all, her mother.

Until a few weeks ago, Madona lived in Navalady, a sand bank bounded by the sea on one side and the lagoon on the other, making it a particularly vulnerable spot. Almost 700 people disappeared, here, “swallowed” by the sea. Almost 80 percent of the village’s inhabitants died.

The young girl tells me of the morning of 26 December: the terrible noise that sounded like the end of the world; the cries of her mother begging her children to run for their lives; the mad rush toward the lagoon with her 11-year-old sister Matena. She tells me about these horrors in a calm and poised voice, in minute, precise detail. Then she recalls the last moment, when she saw her mother running just before the waves caught her. She tells how her uncle found her mother’s body several hours later in the palm trees, grasping Madona’s one-year-old sister in her arms with all her might. Madona doesn’t know what has become of her eight-year-old sister. “She must be with the fish,” she says.

With clarity and extraordinary precision she describes arriving at the school that’s been turned into a makeshift camp, where their grandmother, still covered in wounds, looks after them while waiting for their father, gravely hurt, to return from hospital.

Madona would like to go somewhere else, to a place where she would have more room, “where we could sleep without being piled on top of each other” -- somewhere cleaner, too, because here there’s no water and she must walk a long way outside the camp in order to wash herself. Above all, she’d like to return to school, “like before…”

Someday she’d like to be a doctor. I ask her why she’s chosen this profession: “Because there are lots of people helping us. I’d like one day to be able to help the poor, too.” She lives in unhealthy conditions, her family has nothing left, but she doesn’t doubt for a moment that things will change for the better. She is certain that one day she’ll be a doctor, and no longer one of those she calls “the poor.”

Madona is just a very young girl, but she already seems like an impressive woman, someone you admire and respect at first sight. Only once do I see her eyes cloud over, when remembering her mother. “Now I no longer have anyone to take care of me the way she did.” But then she continues telling of life in the camp, of playing with the other children.

And despite these horrible, sordid living conditions, despite the sorrow, I see standing before me, like a challenge in the face of this unjust destiny, the commanding miracle of hope and of life in the clear smile of Madona.

[ Any views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not of Reuters. ]

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