Remember When | Dear Mark

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December 2009

Dear Mark,

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life it’s that time goes too quickly. Before we know it, in a blink of an eye, or an irregular heart beat, everything we have can be gone. Without warning. Without a chance to even say good-bye. So I’m writing you this letter, just as I sometimes do for my other children, so you always know exactly where you stand.

On Lake Volta in Ghana, Mark Kwadwo, 6, left, scoops water in the canoe of Kwadwo Takyi, rear. Kwabena Botwe, 11, paddles. CreditJoao Silva for The New York Times

I will never forget how I first met you, in a color photograph in the New York Times. Seeing how you looked then – your dirty t-shirt and your scarred skin and that fear in your eyes – I was so saddened for you, and filled with a desire to help you. I thought at the time that that just wasn’t possible. You seemed so far away. You seemed so foreign. I couldn’t even locate the country where you lived on a map.

It’s strange now to think about that. You’ve become such an important part of our family. It’s almost like I can’t remember a time when your artwork wasn’t hanging on our wall, the first thing I see when I walk out the door to take the kids to school; or when that photo of you – smiling and goofy – wasn’t on the fridge. I think I keep these reminders of you not only so I can remember to write you a letter, or give you a call, but to remind myself of everything you’ve taught me, and the person you’ve helped me to become.

People say I rescued you. But Mark, I want you to know something. You’ve also rescued me. You have taught me so many things. About love, and grace, and courage. About what it means to be and to have a family. You have changed my very idea of motherhood. Being a mother doesn’t just mean that I parent the children I’ve given birth to, or the ones I’ve adopted. I now understand that being a mother means that we make ourselves available to children, regardless of where they live, or the language that they speak. I take great pride being scolded by the staff at Village of Hope because I brought you too much candy.  That is just what moms do for with their kids.

Mark Kwadwo, 6, in the small dark room, where he sleeps on the dirt floor and rises before dawn to work on Lake Volta, a two-day trek from his family home. “I don’t like it here,” he whispered to a visitor, out of earshot of his employer. CreditJoao Silva for The New York Times

The first time I came to visit you, I remember watching you cook your pot of beans on an open fire with your roommates – the boys you now call brothers. To see you poking the fire with a stick, and the way you embraced life as a normal six year old, you taught me that beauty truly does come from ashes. Everything and every life can be restored. You and I will always have the scars to remind us from where we came and what we’ve endured. As we both know, dark backgrounds help the diamonds shine even brighter.

When I look around at all of the people I have met who want to do whatever they can to help you, and the thousands of other children who have been sold into slavery, I’ve learned that I am a part of a big, caring, and generous community. A community of people who are willing to look and live outside of themselves.

Watching you get excited about your bowl of rice in the morning, and a clean glass of water, you’ve taught me that life is the loveliest, when it’s the most simple.

You’ve taught me how crazy I am to try and complicate it so much; and to fill it with things that don’t matter. With things that won’t last. Money. Possessions. Frantic schedules. Self absorption.

You’ve taught me the value in making connections; and the indescribable importance of a true friend. As I look around the room now, at these amazing, funny, wild, and courageous women, I remember you.

And most of all, you have taught me the one thing I never thought I’d learn. Every single one of us, regardless of how bad it is, can overcome our very worst situation. Abuse, the loss of a mother, a friend, or a beautiful 15 year old son who, when he left my world, I was sure that I’d never truly live again.  You have helped me to live again.

And you make me want to keep working, to work myself right out of this job. You make me want to tell your story so often and so many times, that people know it by heart. I want them to want to help you, or someone like you. Hopefully it would be one of the 7,000 kids who are still enslaved, but maybe not. Maybe its someone else. Someone in their own community, in their own house. Maybe it’s just a decision they make to finally take care of themselves.

I have so many more things to say to you but for now I want to say this. Thank you. In finding you, I have found myself. I have found my Mark. And now I will do what I can, to help others do the same. My beautiful, awesome friends, I have found my Mark. Are you ready to find yours?

-Ma Pam

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