Friday, 29 September 2017

The Boy with the Bowls

Africa will break your heart. It will challenge you, it will push you and it will change you.

In my travels I have worked on many projects and seen many things that have both broken my heart and given me great hope for the future. I have met kids who have come from being dropped in a dumpster to now being healthy, happy, silly children. I have met teenagers who have come from raising their siblings from a young age to now finishing high school grades at the top of their class. The growth in children when they are given a chance to be just that, a child, is remarkable. Children are resilient, they are bright and they are simply waiting with open arms for someone to pick them up, bring them into their lives and hearts and give them a chance.

If you have followed this blog, you will have met several of the children supported through Bracelet of Hope. Bracelet of Hope supports six foster homes throughout the Northern region of Lesotho, in partnership with the Apostolic Faith Mission Development Division. Each one of these 38 children has a story that is both remarkable and gut wrenching.

This past trip to Lesotho, I was joined by a remarkable team of seven to meet the children, support painting and restorations of the foster homes, and to journey into the beautiful mountain kingdom. This group came together from different walks of life for two weeks to become a team of strong, brave givers. Together we painted, cleaned, played and learned. This team was stretched to their limits, they sat in the dirt, they climbed mountains, they hugged and played with the children, they sang, shared food, and opened their hearts to support the orphans in our foster homes, and to create a better life for them.

Part way through the trip, we packed up our van with buckets of paint, cleaning supplies and a hockey bag full of shoes, education materials, feminine hygiene products and clothing for our kids. We were on our way to do some work on a foster home in the Maseru district while the kids were at school.

We arrived in the morning and unloaded the van. Our goal was to paint the foster mother and children's bedrooms and do as much cleaning as we could to support this foster home. The mother at this home had recently been cleared of her cancer. It had been several months of her needing a support foster mother and time to rest as she fought cancer. It was a bright, beautiful morning and we were greeted with new, adorable puppies their dog had just had.

We walked into the home and did an inspection of the rooms we were going to paint. The foster mother's room was first, we had to clear several boxes and move the bed and closets to make room to paint the walls. The girl's room was next, which had two bunk beds and a single bed, as well as a closet. The room was very tidy and the girls had kept it in great condition. We then moved on to the boy's room.

When I walked in I could immediately see the room was dirty, there was an odour and bugs in the room. We began moving things in the room to start painting, touching the blankets and realized that they were dirty to the touch. As I pulled the blankets off the beds, I pulled one of them up and saw a bowl. I then pulled the mattress foams apart and found two more bowls. The bowls had old food inside of them, and this was the root cause of the smell and bugs.

I proceeded to pull off all of the blankets and with our team, we hand washed every blanket in the bath tub from the boys' room. The other half of the team went in and swept, wiped down the walls, opened the windows and painted the bedrooms. The paint created more bright, clean and inviting rooms. It is phenomenal what a few coats of paint can do to transform a home.

As we washed the blankets, I wondered why this young boy had kept bowls of food in his bed. Was he not getting enough food? Was he being bullied? Was he afraid to eat in front of people? Why did he hoard this food?

You see, it is important that when we take in orphans off the streets and out of vulnerable situations that we care for their physical needs, ensuring they are well fed, have a safe roof over their head and receive education and health care, BUT it is also critical that we provide for the emotional needs of these children. That is one of the great challenges.

Many of these children are coming from places where food is scarce, they have lost their parents and have been left to fend for themselves, some as young as toddlers. The scarring that is left behind from them having to fight their way to survive, alone, and afraid goes deep. It is our job to provide them with a happy, safe, healthy home where they can begin to heal and understand that they are safe, they are loved, and they no longer have to fight to stay alive. They have come to the foster home to stay, to have a mother to care for them, food in their bellies and to reclaim their childhood.

After a day of cleaning and painting, I sat down with our social worker and discussed the bowls in the bed. He told me this is not the first time this has happened, and it may not be the last. This young boy's single mother passed, leaving him with extended family. His extended family did not have the resources or capacity to care for him, so they abandoned him. He would often sleep outside his extended family's homes after they had rejected him. Out in the world somewhere, he also has siblings, but they have been separated. He is aware he has family and cannot comprehend why they don't want him. 

He is a very angry little boy, desperate to belong and he is simply protecting himself. When you are used to having to think ahead, not knowing when your next morsel of food will be coming, it makes sense to save every last bit of food you can. By hoarding and hiding food in his bed, he feels comforted that even if food runs out at the foster home, he will always have enough to survive. Food is a basic human need. He has been through trauma that has forced him to rely on his survival instincts. He is not being lazy or rebellious by sneaking food, he is simply exhibiting his survival instincts. This insecurity of lack of food has developed over years and it will take time for him to trust that at the foster home, there will always be food available.

With a lot of love, trust, and patience, we will work towards helping him heal. Our social worker has sat down with him many times, taking extra counselling sessions with him. He is also now engaging him in an activity he loves- art. He draws stories, feelings of anger, fear and inner thoughts. The drawings are helping him express his feelings and thoughts. It has started to open up a space for talking, and that's a start. This issue of food hoarding and desperation to belong will not be cured over night. At age fourteen, he has endured more than most adults in this world could ever imagine.

I often tell stories of our children who have come from horrific circumstances who are now thriving and growing in positive ways. That is the ultimate goal of course. However, sometimes it takes longer than a month, a year, or even five years. Sometimes, the traumas that these children have endured last a lifetime. The counselling and support that our social worker and foster moms give to these children is an ongoing struggle. We do this work because it desperately needs to be done. It is ongoing and it is challenging. 

I tell these stories because I am desperate for you to know what kinds of struggles we face when supporting orphans. We stand up for these kids, we tell their stories, we fundraise for these kids, we wash their dirty blankets, we hold them tight. Every penny, every soccer game, every storybook matters. Children need love and they need support. Every small amount of heart, of money and of care you give, truly does make a difference in their lives. 

Situations like these can break you. They can make you have a hard time believing that the world is good, and that good things can happen. I choose to take on these challenges and use them as fuel to keep going, as a reason to continue to fight for these kids. And for that reason, without hesitation, I ask you today, will you join me in washing their blankets, funding their education, feeding their bellies and helping to ensure that one day, not a single child has to endure the tragedies that these kids have felt? Help us give them the bright future they deserve.