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Losing Lantu, Building Community

November 14, 2016. By

Imagine losing a friend as close as family. Not just any friend, but one who seemed capable of anything. A friend whose determination and spirit meant that nothing could hold her back. That’s the kind of friend—the kind of person—Lantu was.

In Ethiopia, children with special needs can lose out: on parents, education, and community. They can be a drain on families with desperately limited resources or they can be considered cultural outcasts. That’s why, when Lantu’s father knocked on the door of an American missionary family and left Lantu with them, they took her in happily and raised her as one of their own.

She was the first child to call orphanage Ebenezer Grace home, and she entered Argaw, Rachel, and their children’s hearts effortlessly. Although she was five years old, she was the size of a three year old, suffering from heart and lung problems, and unable to walk or see. But in her new home, Lantu thrived. She learned to walk with the help of a cast-off curtain rod, and she was soon a beloved member of the family and the Ebenezer Grace community, which grew quickly after Lantu’s arrival.

She was a vibrant girl, who ran to play with her friends even though it was hard on her lungs, and who memorized scripture and learned languages easily even though she couldn’t read or see, and whose laugh was infectious. And although she thrived for several years, Lantu’s physical complications did finally result in an infection that ended her life at nine years old.

lantuEbenezer Grace volunteer Ellen Roemke visited the orphanage shortly after Lantu’s death, and she brought copies of Draw It Out with her. Everyone who knew Lantu was struggling with the loss, especially Argaw, Rachel, and their children, who began the orphanage together. Public grieving isn’t the typical way people express their emotions in Ethiopia, so some children were hesitant to open up and share.

But once the kids did become comfortable, Ellen said, “One would share, then another, and they’d use art to express their feelings, even when there was a language barrier.” One little girl, Ruth, came to the orphanage in 2012 and knew Lantu for several years. Deaf and mute, Ruth wasn’t part of discussions about Lantu at first, but Draw It Out allowed her to feel included and express her emotions in a peer-supported model.

At a deeply emotional time for everyone who knew Lantu, Draw It Out helped everyone process through their grief, share stories, and remember the wonderful, special person that Lantu was. Draw It Out was a safe place for kids to share without feeling singled out, to laugh together in memory of Lantu, and to share their fears, worries, and hopes for the future. Rachel, founder of Ebenezer Grace, says this community of healing was something they all needed, and Draw It Out helped them understand that.