Our center recently took in a little 5-year old boy, who is HIV positive and has been living on the streets for the past couple of months. His parents have died in jail and despite extensive investigations, no extended family has been found.
Life on the streets of Uganda is a battle for survival. Their are no soup kitchens, emergency care centers, or child protective services looking out for the needs of the most vulnerable. Its a survival of the fittest. I constantly see children living in the trenches and my heart honestly breaks seeing their struggle.
When I look at this little boy, who I appointed the name Kolbe, I think to myself, WOW! You’re a fighter. You have used an intuitive, fighting and and manipulative behavior to survive. Yet, underneath those strong personality traits is an inherent longing to be included and belong somewhere.
I frequently oversee how Kolbe interacts with others. He longs to be involved in every play activity, loves to be praised, mimics every positive and negative action for some attention, compares every plate of food in relation to his own and runs from every wrong action in fear of the consequence. I truly don’t blame him for any of these actions because he has used these behaviors since childhood in order to remain alive.
Kolbe is still in survival mode, but sometimes I look into his eyes and just say, ‘You’re safe now. Can you trust me for a couple of minutes.’
I long for him to let down his guard for brief moments at a time in order to just be a kid and not have to think about where the next plate of food is coming from, or fear people chasing him because he stole some piece of food or be frightened of rats biting him in the night.
The journey of Kolbe discovering this safety net and a sense of acceptance echoes deep for me. Within his inherent fears and fighting personality reminds me of how we all long to belong. We all want to be part of something exciting, great and beautiful. For in that belonging lies the courage to admit our imperfections and allow us to just be ourselves.
For at the end of the day, whether you live on the beautiful island of Zanzibar, in a tiny corner of Alaska, amidst the hustle and bustle of New York City or in a rural village of Central Uganda, we all belong somewhere and find fulfillment in doing a particular type of work. Sometimes it takes years to find that fulfillment. And still for some it takes a lifetime.
It has taken me years to come to terms with the fact that an enriching and fulfilled life is not found in the exotic countries of our beautiful world, but that fulfillment lies in performing a simple task with the greatest love for someone else.
It resides in knowing that you belong and can be accepted despite outward appearances of imperfections or hidden imperfections. For in that confident belonging lies the courage to recognize truth and discover abundant peace and joy on this earth.
For little Kolbe, I see his authentic self emerging, but the journey of him finding a safe haven of acceptance and belonging has only just begun. It will take years, but those are years that will transpire by doing everyday life with the greatest understanding, love and compassion. I know its a fight worth fighting for.