"It's a Difficult Job"
This is the story of Steward Chileshe, a fourteen-year-old student at Hope Community School who receives education, nutrition, medical care and emotional support through the Spark-Hope partnership.
Fourteen-year-old Steward Chileshe walks home quickly, quietly. His steadfast walk takes him farther from the sounds of the schoolyard of Hope Community School, sounds of giggling girls and games played with beaten soccer balls. Every afternoon, he walks willingly and with purpose away from the sounds of childhood because he knows there are more children waiting for him at home.
As he turns into the small dirt yard in front of his home, he walks straight to his nine-month-old half-sister, Grace, who is silently sitting alone on a dirty mat. Her supposed babysitters, a handful of neighborhood children who themselves seem young enough to need babysitters, are sitting at the other end of the yard, distracted by conversation. Grace’s eyes brighten when she sees her brother Steward, who gently sits down next to her.
Every school day, after he eats what is usually his only meal of the day through Hope Ministries’ meal program, Steward rushes home to Grace like this. He does so willingly and with strength beyond his few years because there are no other options. After Steward’s father died years ago, his mother remarried, bringing Grace, his other half-sister Gertrude and some stability to the family. The hard-won security proved short lived when in November his mother was accused of being HIV positive. Plagued by these accusations, his mother committed suicide, leaving behind Steward, six-month-old Grace, three other children and an unemployed husband.
Grace, having already lost so much, clings to Steward and does not allow anyone else to care for her. While Steward’s stepfather goes out in search of odd jobs each day to pay for what little food they can afford, Grace stays home, watched from a distance by the neighborhood children until Steward can get home to her. He forgoes the carefree afternoons of childhood to cook for, feed and comfort his sister, leaving only the precious few hours he spends at Hope Community School for him to be a child.
While it would be easy to imagine how the immense responsibility placed on his young shoulders would sprout cynicism, hopelessness and pain, Steward has turned it into his life’s motivation. His face livens when he talks about wanting to become a doctor so that he can help and take care of people just like he helps and takes care of Grace.
The headteacher of Hope Community School, who learned of the boy’s story only when Steward had to ask to be late to school so that he could take care of his sister in the morning, is searching for resources to support Steward and his family so that this boy who has spent so much time taking care of others might himself at last be taken care of as well. In the meantime, when asked about the incredible burden he bears, Steward does not cry or rage, but instead he pauses in his quiet, stoic manner and with thought says only, “It is a difficult job.”
You can help support Steward and his classmates in a variety of ways. See our Make an Investment page for more information.