Eco Awad Roman was captured on camera handing Francis 100 South Sudanese pounds — the equivalent of $0.14. Mary says her son used the money she gave him to buy biscuits to show the kindness of South Sudanese.
"The father of these kids is not a nice person. I go washing people’s clothes so that my kids can attend school. When they are sick, I am the one to them to the clinic and pay their medical bills," she told VOA.
Mary, who lost her hearing to meningitis as a child, said she leaves the house every morning to look for casual jobs to earn money for food and medical care for Eco and his other five siblings.
Her husband, she said, does not support her and her children, leaving her to single-handedly shoulder her family's needs.
"Relatives of the father of my kids don’t come to visit us. They even don’t help me buying school items and uniform, shoes, sandals, textbooks and backpacks. They just leave me to do everything for these kids," she said.
Joyce Apai, Eco’s grandmother who lives in the same compound with her daughter and grandchildren, says Eco’s mother looks for work everyday to provide for her six children.
But Joyce said she was not surprised when she saw the photo of Eco on Facebook handing money to the pontiff.
"When they returned home, I asked them, 'Have you seen Pope?' They said yes. But after few minutes, I started receiving phone calls from people who told me they saw photo of my [grandson] handing money to Pope Francis. I started asking Eco, 'How did you find Pope in the huge crowd of people?' He said he cried, and his money was in his hand. His mother gave it to him," she said.
Joyce said Eco dreams big and has been telling his mother that he wants to be a priest when he grows up.
Eco’s father is a Muslim, but his mother and grandmother are Catholics. Joyce said her grandson was named Eco— short for economy — because of South Sudan's financial troubles.
South Sudanese took to social media after seeing the photo on Facebook, praising the boy's gesture of kindness.