How small a man is, next to a boy.
I have tried writing a start to this post several times but the words make sense only in my head. Before reading on just know that all is well, but I said I would always be honest and here is the honest truth about the week I have just had here in South Africa.
It all began last year when I got wind of a possible trafficking occurring within our project. A he said she said rumour that one of our boys Mothers had said she 'wants to sell him'. Regardless, this must be taken seriously. So began the anxious search for this young man which meant walking through Hillbrow in the pitch black of night as a white man, looking for a child that might not be there. For those of you who do not know, Hillbrow is a suburb that half the time the emergency services will not go to because of a fear of being killed.
Now, I do not write this to brag saying 'I'm so tough', I am saying as to help with understanding this situation. Long story short, after the Mother had said she had no idea who I was talking about when asked where her son is, we finally managed to track him down and made sure he was at school the next day. Possible false alarm or potential prevention of the trafficking itself. As you can imagine, this was a rather emotional experience for me.
Cut to this week, the young boy in question had his school bag stolen with the months money for groceries and rent in it, he was taking it from his mother to his uncle. It was taken, he was threatened and he ran away in fear. He was then beaten because he lost the money, by his family. This is how parenting operates in South Africa in many cases. In charge of damage control for this situation, it was my job to get to the bottom of this.
I had nine students in the office all telling me different stories and I had to be stern and cold in order to get the truth and at the end of the day, this boy was trying to pin the blame on others. It broke my heart to have to tell him that the onus is on him and that it is not his fault even with said blame resting on his shoulders. Oxymoron, but you get my drift. This is the hard part of being here, is trying to relate to the situations of children that would not happen to me and have not happened to me, being an adult in a situation where the children in question have more experience than I, how unfair is that? It broke me, I knew the day was going to be tough after this.
As I was finishing up with sorting this issue out, I got an emergency request that I meet with a social worker who wanted to meet one of the boys that I fear has Autism.
Back story, this boy and I are close, he was the one stuck in the car with me when the police pulled me over last year and would not let me leave, he is the boy that the office and I searched for in order to get him back into our project following a disappearing act. This is a boy from a war torn country and for safety reasons I will not say where, a boy whose Mother is dead, Father is an alcoholic with two Aunties who tried and can no longer care for him as they know not how to respond to his behaviour. This is a boy with little hope, and when I met with the social worker I prayed to anyone that would listen, that he is just a troubled boy with no diagnosable outcome. Alas, after meeting with him and talking to him about how the boy will only respond to soft speech and a gentle touch, how he is traumatised from his past experiences, that he indeed has Autism. Now, having Autism does not diminish his chances at a successful and prosperous life, but with the weight of all the other things that have happened, I broke down emotionally and could not contain my sorrow. What hope can I possibly help inspire in this young man? What hope does he have now with no support? My boss called me later that evening to help me get through the negativity and we are going to work closely with a certain organisation to ensure he is safe, in a school that can cater to his needs, and he is not sent back to this home country to his alcoholic father. Regardless, it hit home quite hard.
Funnily enough, he still smiles, still plays and laughs, hugs me and tells me stories. He remains the same, happy and carefree as a child should be.
If that was no enough, a child then voiced his opinion that he does not have to listen to a white person and that there is no respect from him to us. Another dagger, that all the hard work trying to gain the trust and respect of the children, that the church they frequent still has power over their minds. This however, is a contained case and 1 out of 150 kids, I can live with that. Who am I to judge?
Sadly, this is not the end of it all, one of the volunteers I work closely with was kicked in the back of the head with a hard soccer ball and suffered concussion. We spent several hours in the emergency department of the hospital hoping against hope that it is only minor. She is much better now but it was a big scare, especially for her. Home by midnight to sleep and do it all again the next day.
How small I am in the grand scheme of things.
Welcome to life with refugees and a harsh society. Oh, and a wayward Soccer Ball.