Samir is one of the lucky ones - thanks to you

Tragic toddler Samir will be the last child to leave Sudan's awful 'baby dump.' Before him have gone a long line of babies into the arms of foster parents, in a process which EDP readers' donations have helped to fund.

Tragic toddler Samir will be the last child to leave Sudan's awful 'baby dump.'

Before him have gone a long line of babies into the arms of foster parents, in a process which EDP readers' donations have helped to fund.

Here former EDP Deputy Editor James Ruddy tells some of their stories in Khartoum.

Every time little Samir is picked up and cuddled by a visitor, he clamps his mobile phone to his ear and utters one word repeatedly: “Hello . . . hello . . . hello.”

It is a remarkably moving display by the three-year-old who is renowned by his carers as a versatile mimic and comedian.

Physicians often maintain that when your sight goes, your hearing and other senses can be sharpened.

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So it is with Samir, who displays an incredible ability to hear and repeat words in English as well as recognising the sounds and, apparently, the smells of people he knows.

When I met him his mouth was singing some of those words, as he laughed and joked with his carers in a joyous show of childish pleasure.

Yet his short life has been anything but joyful.

Born outside of marriage in Sudan's teeming capital, Khartoum, to an impoverished housemaid mother, he was abandoned after three months.

Unlike many similar young women, she decided not to throw him onto a rubbish tip at birth, fearing lashings for her sexual sin under Sharia Muslim law as well as being ostracised by her family and friends for trying to keep him.

Instead she had the decency to bring him to the Maygoma Institute, which has been the huge city's dumping centre for such babies for the past 25 years.

In that respect, Samir could be described as lucky.

He was also lucky not to succumb to the disease and neglect that claimed eight out of every ten babies brought there three years ago.

Then his luck ran out.

After nine months, his vision began to fade and he was checked by doctors. He was diagnosed as having bilateral retinolblastoma, a rare and often hereditary form of cancer.

Both eyes had to be removed and he endured six months of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

On my recent visit back to Maygoma with the founders of our partner charity, Col Mark and Caroline Cook, I found Samir playing happily with nannies and the remaining special care children.

A senior social worker, Salma, told me: “Samir has been left behind while so many healthy children have arrived and gone away with their new foster parents.

“It seems so cruel for him to be left. He is a lovely child now, loved by all the nannies. All of them are afraid for him. They fear he will not find anyone and he is so deserving.”

When his eyes were taken away and he endured the difficult medical treatment, he had a spell when he was aggressive towards one of the other children. But psychologists decided it was caused by despair and attention seeking.

Now he has accepted his new life of darkness, staff say he is happy, playful and inquisitive, having learned each of their names by heart.

As we are talking in Selma's office, the Khartoum headquarters of charity Hope and Homes for Children (HHC), she receives a message that brings hope about Samir's plight.

A local woman who became an emergency foster mother to a baby from Maygoma in December, has rung in to say that she saw Samir and wants to take him as well.

“She is very enthusiastic,” says Selma. “She says she may even adopt him permanently and asked if she could take him home today. But we have to wait to ensure everything is prepared.”

With Samir being one of just 75 children left in Maygoma - most like him with special needs - there may be light at the end of his dark tunnel.

And, if the place closes on schedule at the end of this month, it will have been a remarkable achievement in negotiation and determination.

The seeds of Maygoma's closure were planted three years ago, when HHC learned of its existence and were horrified that over 400 abandoned babies were dying in its disease-ridden dormitories every year.

In the five years previous to that, almost 2500 abandoned children were brought to the institution - and 2100 of them died.

At a cost of just £120 to rescue a child from Maygoma and give them a start with a new loving and stable emergency foster family, HHC asked the EDP to help. As usual readers were extremely generous and stumped up just over £120,000 - which has saved 1504 children to date.

During our visit, we saw several of them, now growing up in security and love - unlike the man y who never had that chance.

Some were middle-class parents like Elisma, a divorced mother of two natural children, who has permanently adopted one Maygoma girl, Minera, aged one, and has recently also taken in two-year-old Yousif, on an emergency basis.

In her comfortable home in Khartoum's suburbs, she told us that she just loved children and was moved by the story of the abandoned babies.

“The neighbours are all approving,” she said. “No-one blames me for taking them in and there is no stigma or aggressive behaviour to the children.”

The same story was told a few miles away in the sprawling mud hut former refugee camp of Mayo (May - named after the start of the 1960s revolution) where we met Medina and she fostered three-year-old Rumusa.

The pretty little girl has had a difficult short life. Originally placed with a foster family closer to town, in the capital's Omdurman area, she was neglected and also contracted meningitis.

Medina was selected by the HHC team as a replacement and spent a month helping her to pull through in hospital.

Medina had to 'downsize' to her present mud hut dwelling in May after her husband left for the south with the army. She has heard little from him, but he sends money back and she runs a small tent rental company for surrounding people's funerals, weddings and other events.

It is grindingly poor. Almost 500,000 occupy the sprawling camp, which is serviced by donkey carts and ramshackle buses that can take two or three hours to get into Khartoum centre.

So impoverished are the people that the shops dole out cooking sauces by the spoonful, as well as just two matches and they will paint just 10 fingernails for a woman who cannot afford to buy a whole bottle of nail varnish.

Water, too, is brought in by mule cart from privately owned standpipes. People pay by the bottle and even have to buy water to make mud bricks if they want to extend their property in the dust-backed earth streets.

Col Cook was shocked by the conditions: “I've been to many places in Africa and elsewhere, but this has to be the poorest I have ever seen.

There isn't a blade of grass or a leaf to be seen for miles. Nothing but baked earth and utter impoverished people who still seem to be full of smiles and politeness.”

And that was the case with Medina. The charity would not normally place Rumusa in such a low income area, but she was already fostered when the mother moved and they diud not want top separate them.

Social workers visit regularly and are pleased by the little girl's progress.

It is the same story among the dozen or so homes we visit during our stay. Whether they are rich or poor, it matters not.

Everywhere, we find a spirit of genuine love and affection for the new child or children in their midst.

As one mother summed it as she cuddled the three year old she has fostered for the past six months: “She has brought a light into the heart of this family - and it will never go out. We will keep her forever with us.”