By Phil Manzano, with contributions by Annila Harris
Maya beams with new light since overcoming her illness and returning to school.
Deep in the slums of New Delhi, in a gray and dusty landscape of crowded, weathered apartments, hope seemed far off for 9-year-old Maya.
Even in this impoverished setting, Maya was considered a nobody. She suffered epileptic seizures; as her mom looked on, helpless and scared, Maya’s legs and arms stiffened and her mouth foamed. After a few epileptic episodes at school, Maya was told to stay home.
Maya feared the seizures, which would strike anytime. Her father, a labourer, and her mother scraped together what they could to buy medicine. Desperate, they took out loans and even visited a witch doctor.
But nothing seemed to slow Maya’s downward spiral. The longer she stayed away from school, the further she fell behind in her studies. The more withdrawn she became, the more she stopped caring for herself. Teased and bullied by older girls, Maya languished.
“I used to sit around and there was nothing to do,” Maya says. “I used to feel like my head was heavy all the time. I used to be with my mother most of the time. I didn’t go out much.”
Until one day, hope arrived — in the form of a letter sent 7,000 miles, from a grandmother in Spokane, Washington, who took Maya under her wing.
Kay Yoke was attending a Women of Faith conference when she came across Maya’s picture and information at a World Vision sponsorship table. Kay’s mother had recently passed away and Maya was born on the same day as her mom. Kay thought sponsoring Maya seemed like a great way to honour her memory.
About once a month, Kay sits at her dining room table to pen a letter to Maya. Kay’s granddaughter is about the same age as Maya, so she writes to her as she would her own granddaughter.
In her letters, Kay asks about Maya and her family, she asks about her health, she asks about the weather — but Kay also asks about Maya’s aspirations and dreams. She fills her letters with affirmations, encouragement, and prayers. Sometimes, she includes a small gift, like hair ribbons or a photo.
“She wrote about praying for me and my family, that she prays for my family,” Maya says. “I remember that, I felt very good and when I read that letter, I cried. Tears just came.”
Maya holds onto those letters like a lifeline. She cherishes and keeps them in a tidy bundle tied together with ribbon. Maya always writes back immediately, thanking the woman she calls “my Kay” for the prayers and gifts. One time, Maya included a gift of her own, a bracelet for Kay.
From the stoop of her apartment, above the din, Maya reads one of Kay’s letters:
I just received your beautiful letter. Thank you very much for the [bracelets]. They are beautiful and I will treasure them forever.
I show them to everyone and I tell them that my girl in India sent these to me and I love her.
I’m so happy to read that your studies are going good…I pray for you, your brothers and your mother and father every day.
Keep smiling every day, Maya. You have a wonderful smile that makes me very happy.
Love to you,
As she sits with the letter, Maya begins to weep, remembering how those simple words have changed her life.
In her heart she receives a greater gift, something stronger and more enduring: the knowledge that someone believes in her and cares for her, who tells her she is somebody.
“The prayers of my sponsor have healed me,” Maya says. “Yes, it’s because of Kay. Kay said, ‘Don’t fear. Count on God and everything will be okay.’ I listened to Kay.”
It’s been about three years since Kay found Maya. And the girl who had retreated into a shell has emerged.
She has returned to school and attends the local World Vision tuition center regularly. The once listless, fearful girl now writes and studies Hindi, English, and science. She even attended Life School Training Development classes where she learned about child rights, hygiene, and the ill effects of alcohol and tobacco. She’s taking care of herself and has found her voice, speaking at World Vision youth events.
“It’s so good to hear that,” Kay says from her home in Spokane. She was not fully aware of how deep an impact her letters have had on Maya. “It really inspires me to do even more.”
As much as Maya anticipates her letters, Kay says she also looks forwards to letters from Maya. Maya’s photo is on Kay’s fridge and when the grandchildren come over she shares the latest letters from Maya with them.
“She’s part of our family,” Kay says. “My whole family knows who Maya is.”
“To me it is just amazing, she’s on the other side of the world and we have a connection.”
And it all started with a letter and a prayer.
This story was featured in an issue of World Vision Magazine.