In the latest of a series of articles for Children in Crossfire’s Advent Appeal to encourage donations and the purchase of the charity’s Ethical Gifts to help fund its life-saving Nourish programme to combat childhood hunger in Africa, Derry GP Diarmuid De Burca from Aberfoyle Surgery, recalls a special little girl from a life-changing trip to Tanzania.

Diarmuid in Nepal, during Everst Base camp trek
Diarmuid in Nepal, during Everst Base camp trek

At this time of year there’s one little girl I just can’t get out of my heart.

I don’t ever want to either. She’s not even ‘one of my own’ - or is she?

Drs Diarmuid de Burca and Joe Mc Evoy , with His Holiness The Dalai Lama during his visit to Derry in April. Dairmuid and Joe were the doctors for the visit.

Drs Diarmuid de Burca and Joe Mc Evoy , with His Holiness The Dalai Lama during his visit to Derry in April. Dairmuid and Joe were the doctors for the visit.

If I think about her too much I start to well up. If I start to talk about her I usually embarrass myself. Best kept in my heart, the higher function says, but not this year.

She deserves to be celebrated. She’s been born in one of the planet’s truly poorest countries and has a serious disability. She’s the epitome of the triumph of human spirit over adversity. She’s a vibrant adorable smiling dancing Tanzanian teenager without hearing or speech but not without a wicked sense of humour and mind-blowing communication skills.

I had the great joy of meeting her at the Lake Victoria disability centre on a cultural trip around Children in Crossfire’s main projects in Tanzania led by Richard Moore and his trusted right hand man JR.

She was one of many significantly disabled minors, many with horrendous physical disabilities due to polio in a community which has one physiotherapist for a million people. She had been thrown a lifeline and she wished to make it very clear to us that she had firmly embraced it. Taking us one by one, she spontaneously honed in on our most prominent physical ‘features’ and warmly and lovingly portrayed near perfect caricatures of each of us using only her hands and her facial expressions.

Little interpretation was needed to understand that she had observed that I had ‘no lips’ and that my female colleague next to me was distinctly ‘flat-chested’. It went on and on and like after the very best stand-up performances I can still hear the roars of laughter and all of course directed at ourselves.

On reflection I think she was saying: ‘we’re not all that different folks and I embrace your little imperfections too’; profound emotional ntelligence for a very young teenager. She would shortly graduate from Lake Victoria Disability Centre with a fluent command of sign language, the skills to produce high quality garments, a sewing machine to enable her to set up a small business in her own community and most of all immense self-esteem. Perfect is boring: the cracks let in so much light.

There is no better way to illustrate how, this young lady embodies, for me, the success of an intelligent, coherent, focussed NGO like Children in Crossfire (CIC) which knows how to maximise the impact of precious resources.

Apart from her disabilities she was a picture of perfect physical health reflecting excellent nutrition in early life which is a clear priority of Children in Crossfire because as CIC’s website highlights: without adequate nutrition children never reach their physical or mental potential. What happens during the early years is of crucial importance for every child’s development. Good nutrition obviously positively impacts on school performance and improves the potential for a healthier, and better quality of life with a potential for higher earnings and a fuller participation in society. A good nutritional foundation in the early years makes a difference throughout life and likely positively impacts on the next generation.

A major current focus for CIC is therefore the ‘Nourish’ nutritional programme in Ethiopia which is significantly reducing child mortality

(by 29% in 2 years).

Over the past seven years I have had the great privilege of participating in fundraising events for CIC such as half marathons abroad, the wonderful Derry City Marathon and high altitude trekking in the Andes and to Everest base camp. The latter probably approach the limit that people were prepared to go for their chosen charity with one third of our group. despite their intensive preparation, needing evacuation; two of them as emergencies via helicopter.

Cliches or not, there’s no point in calling them anything other than life-changing experiences shared with life-long friends.

I can’t thank Richard and CIC enough for bringing the patron His Holiness the Dali Lama back to Derry during our City of Culture year and for affording Dr Joe McEvoy and I the honour of being his GPs for the day.

I was far too overwhelmed to chat to him when the opportunity came which was daft really because he was just like my wee friend from Lake Victoria: vibrant, loving, compassionate with outstanding communication skills and a ‘wicked sense of humour’.

The beautiful thing is that I have no doubt that the great man would be honoured to be compared to her.