There Shouldn’t Be Coffins This Small

by Kupenda

A brunette woman wearing sunglasses holding a smiling Kenyan child.

There shouldn’t be coffins this small.

This is the thought running through my head as we face the death of 9-year-old Emily Kombe who died from pneumonia (likely as a result of untreated malaria) on Saturday night.  The local pastor was notified when the neighbors heard wailing throughout the village and he immediately called us.  Yesterday, as our Kenya director made arrangements for today’s service, I spent an hour sitting next to Emily’s body and her mother as women around us continuously wailed.  On my right one group of men dug her grave and on my left another group made her coffin.  The sounds of wailing, digging, and sawing echo through my head.  We are sad, confused, and angry… yet appreciative of her life.  As I watched them cut down the wood to the correct size for this little girl I just thought…

There shouldn’t be coffins this small.

Out of the hundreds of children we support, Emily was the one we chose to highlight as a great success story in our December newsletter.  Kupenda provided support for her to join the Gede Special School 2 years ago when the local pastor recommended it to her mother because of Emily’s cerebral palsy.  When Emily joined she was malnourished, infested with bugs, could not even sit up, and was shunned by the community resulting in sadness in her eyes.  After a very short time at the school, she was radiant, healthy, learning, and even starting to walk.  She was even assisting other children with their studies.  Because she lacked speech but was extremely bright, she was going to join a deaf classroom at the Gede School this term.  

We have a continued problem of children getting sick, lacking nutrition, or regressing when they are home on school break.  We educate parents, provide extra nutritional support and medication, and tell them to contact us through their pastor or direct to us if any situation arises when they are at home.  However, some families, like Emily’s, fail to do what they should and we believe that Emily’s death might have been avoided if only the mother had let us, or the pastor, know she was sick.  At least we would have known that everything that could be done was done.  This is an ongoing issue for us. 

There shouldn’t be coffins this small.

The current teacher strike means at least two weeks of extra time for children to be at home and more time for children to be without services.  They are spread out in rural areas which we cannot reach regularly especially with our limited staff and resources.  We have had many discussions about what to do for the cases in which there is high neglect by the families but still remain unsure how to resolve it.  Our goal is to support families impacted by disabilities in such a way that they are enabled to care for their own children with the assistance of their church and/or community.  We worry that even if we managed to get the resources to keep care for these children during the holidays we would be encouraging more parents to dump their children and be “released of the burden.”  However, if we don’t watch over them during the holidays, we worry which child we will mourn next.  The headteacher of Emily’s school said “If we don’t do something we will continue to lose more of my lovely children.” 

There shouldn’t be coffins this small.

Emily’s sponsors, Ben and Carissa Mortenson, spent time with her in Kenya and were able to pass a message to me that I shared at the burial service today.  They said they shed tears at the news of Emily’s death but had confidence she is now whole and at peace.  When they met Emily they prayed that she would not only be healthy but that she would be loved and have true joy.  Her grandmother told us when Emily first came home from school she was surprised to see such a beautiful and radiant little girl.  After seeing Emily’s progress, all the children who used to shun her in her village wanted to be her friend.  Her grandmother said she would often use a stick to support Emily to walk through the village with her.  As she walked, Emily would laugh and smile with extreme joy, never wanting to stop.  Her grandmother said the last two years of Emily’s life were wonderful and our support was not in vain.  The prayers of her sponsors were met.  Emily knew she was loved and had true joy on Earth… for two years.  We have confidence that she has an even greater joy and peace now as she rests in the loving arms of God.  However, our hearts were broken today as her casket was lowered into the ground.  

There shouldn’t be coffins this small.  



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One thought on “There Shouldn’t Be Coffins This Small

Andrea Deweese

Heartbreaking. I hope we are soon able to bridge the gap for them during their time away from school.


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