This got me thinking. We gave a job to a young lady last week (for less money than she wanted, but she had not worked since leaving school a year ago, so we thought it was a fair -for here- wage). In her interview she said that she eventually wanted to work in an orphanage. I did not tell her that most of our kids are orphans. She worked on the 1st and 2nd day, and then we did not see her again.
I think I could have enthused her more, if I had explained that the resident youngsters are orphans. We might get more funds - we may attract more attention - it may get us more kudos - whatever that is- but I REFUSE to think of the children here that are loved by us and each other as orphans. The word shrieks poverty and loneliness. The youngsters who have been here longest are starting to call each other brothers and sisters. They are watching out for each other as teens, - even sticking up for each other when they are in trouble. I asked one "Do you still think of yourself as an orphan?" "No" was the very strong answer.
I've been sorting out bed-sheets, and handing them out.... so many sheets. We are aiming for 2 sets per youngster, because they are impossible to dry in the rainy season. It is symbolic to me somehow, that we are going beyond just enough, to enough! Bought from Kampala's second hand market they are good quality, and are mostly duvets cut into two. I am not sure who is going to sleep on Sesame Street.
We had a party Friday night. To celebrate everyone being here (either to or from school) and the new home for the boys. It is grand. There are sets of double rooms, with an inside shower, and outside latrines. First class - with room for the lads to study.
Party means food -huge saucepans of the stuff - and sodas. I now enjoy the standard party food of matooke, rice, pork, spaghetti, chicken and fried cabbage. Everything tastes lovely, but I find the attached lumps of fat on the pork unappetising still. Then we watched a film - picked by Lydia - "Coach Carter". The language was bad to begin with, and I wondered where it was leading, but the storyline was excellent. Coach Carter in this true story wins over difficult teens, and turns them from academic failures and social misfits to a basketball team of fine successful young men. There was a lot of laughter when he yelled at the kids, or dished out punishments, and I heard our names amid the laughter.
After the film they discussed it - inspired - moved, and the thing that struck them most was that Coach Carter believed in the teenagers. He wanted something better for them. They saw the similarity in their own lives.
So what am I musing over? The fact that some just "don't get it". Some never get it. We talk about the kids that are here - but there are others that have gone. They never "got it", they never saw their potential. They chose to continue what they already knew -how to survive on their own, by their wits, on the streets. I hear that some are sick, or have a baby, have dropped out of education, are not working....... We failed. The percentage is not great, but everyone counts. I ask myself - "How can I help them understand?" How can I help the new ones "get it?"
Everyone is so individual-of course. One is very sick, but never mentions it - another is The Drama Queen. One never holds a grudge, another looks at someone whilst making a very Ugandan hisspt - which I have also perfected! One works hard at their studies - another bunks school. One loves cooking - another tries to dodge their turn. Two of the girls love to "play house", another two would rather be busy elsewhere - but all this is what you would expect - in a family.
I am not sure that it is "my family" though. We are certainly the head of it, and we live in the hub -with the boys in their new home in one village, and the girls in theirs in another- all coming together for meals here. I am the "In Charge", with the yell that makes them quake, but Alan is ‘The Authority’. When I am mad they are in for a bad time, but when Alan is cross, boy are they worried. We are the ones that budget, and plan, but it still does not feel like our family.......
By this I mean that no-one is more overawed than we are that it works. We have brilliant help, but even that is not enough. We feed and encourage the youngsters - counsel and chastise - but even that does not make a family. No, this is a God thing - and I say again no-one is more amazed than we are.
The verse that I am musing on - meditating on if you like - is this
"He puts the lonely in families". not orphanages - families.
Sylivia (Our Residential Social Worker/my right hand) has taken away a lot of the problems from me - she is now the one who buys and dishes out the things they need, and moans about cleanliness and timekeeping. She makes rotas, buys the food, plans menus, and rations the sugar (Now that is an IMPOSSIBLE task!) She manages to keep smiling and has won their respect. Games of football or basketball happen more often because the chores are done more readily and happily. Often when I go outside I see a happy gaggle of kids laughing and tumbling around on the grass. Now we just need to add in home-work, and we will be flying!!!
So we are left with encouraging, nagging, first aid - hospital - decisions, reprimands, prayers for and with a constant flow of individual attention to youngsters coming to talk about....well the kind of things you talk about in families.
Of course, our own family remain closest in our hearts, and our longing for them never ceases. Here we are not Mum and Dad or Nannie and Grandad, but Aunt and Mr Alan (we never wanted a title at all!) or Jja-jja to the babies. The words "Mum and Dad" are precious - and here so many youngsters do not have the privilege of using them. I try to remember that on days when "Aunt, Aunt" gets on my nerves.
Alan comes back from the office in the evening, and receives a barrage of greetings. I've noticed that however tired (dare I say even grumpy?) he might be, that the lisped "Welcome Back Jjajja Alani" from a tot brings a huge smile to his face.
So, the next time I advertise for the position of "Child Care Assistant", I STILL will not call them orphans - or OVCs (Orphaned and Vulnerable Children) as they are called here) - I will refer to them as Our Youngsters, because that is who they are. It might not get me someone whose ambition is to work in an orphanage, but it will get me a person that loves kids!