I remember going to Wiphan for the first time and meeting so many new people. That day is still etched vividly in my memory. One person who stood out to me that day, and forever since, was a girl named Margaret.
I couldn’t help but notice her: the young teen whose shining eyes and smile instantly warmed my heart…who walked with a visible limp…whose leg was swollen to 3 times its natural size…yet was smiling so big!
Margaret had a rare, but not unheard of disease known as Elephantiasis. Here is an online definition of the disease: Elephantiasis refers to a parasitic infection that causes extreme swelling in the arms and legs. The disease is caused by the filarial worm, which is transmitted from human to human via the female mosquito when it takes a blood meal. The parasite grows into an adult worm that lives in the lymphatic system of humans.*
Despite her disability, Margaret was always at school and always wore a smile. She laughed with her friends and participated in most of their activities. She possessed joy even in her struggle and pain!
She didn’t complain.
She didn’t even show signs of a desire to complain!
She simply dealt with it all and continued living her life.
Last July (2015), my family, a team of around 7 ladies from the U.S., and a few fellow workers at Wiphan went to visit Margaret’s home. Her home was very small and dark, but she and her family welcomed us all.
Towards the end of the year, I noticed Margaret hadn’t been at school in over a week. I approached Pastor Aaron about it and asked him if he knew where she was. He told me he did not, but was going to go to her home the next day and check on her.
I was at Wiphan the next day when he wheeled his bike inside the gate. He began telling me how Margaret had been sick for over a week and had gone to the hospital, but had come home without receiving any attention or medication. The sickness was presumed to be malaria; though I’m not sure that’s all it was.
Pastor Aaron shared he had tried to get Margaret onto his bike with him to bring her to Wiphan and see Nurse Becky, but she wasn’t even able to sit on the bike seat.
Nurse Becky later made a house call. I’m not certain of the outcome, but after asking Pastor Aaron later on I know she did improve from the condition she was in.
The school year in Zambia ends around the first of December and starts up again around the first of January (there are other breaks throughout the year). School finished shortly after the incident I just shared so I didn’t see Margaret for quite some time.
Having completed grade seven (which is a big accomplishment!!) in 2015, Margaret moved into secondary school at the beginning of January through Wiphan’s Inshila program (click here if you’re not sure what that is).
Before the new school year began, there was an Inshila meeting which Margaret attended. She looked so incredibly different I didn’t recognize her at first…Her face had gained much weight and her chin was swollen. The lower half of her face was probably double its normal size.
I wasn’t entirely sure it was her at first! She was wearing a long dress so I couldn’t see her leg to be sure. I whispered to mom who was next to me asking if it was Margaret. We were both taken aback when we realized it actually was her! Her features were so much different and though she still smiled faintly, I could tell she wasn’t feeling well.
I greeted her as she left and asked her how she was doing. Her smile returned a little more as she said, “I am fine.” But she still wasn’t the same girl I’d known before.
This was the last time I saw Margaret…
I learned earlier last week from my parents that her condition was progressively worsening. Then today, we the received news she had passed away.
If had had to pick the two most prominent attributes I saw in Margaret they would be joy and perseverance.
She never lost that smile and she never gave up or let her disability control her life; and those two things about her really impacted me and brightened my spirits when I saw or thought about her.
Margaret will be missed; but that sweet heart and spirit will always be remembered by myself and so many others!! As someone else put it, “Sweet Margaret has been one of Wiphan’s most treasured students”.