Thursday, November 14, 2013

Street Children

Here in Jinja there is a large population of street kids.  These kids live on the streets, sleep on the streets, the streets are their homes.  Whenever we are in town we see the same kids and they are always asking for money for food.  The easy decision seems to be to give them a handout, give them money for food, right?  But is it the best option? I look at my life and think to myself all that I have, why should I not be giving to these kids.  Herein lies the problem, the desire to “help”, and what seems like the simple solution can actually be compounding the problem and enabling their life on the street.  One of the big problems is that if you give the kids money, it may not always go towards food or improving their lives.  Unfortunately, for so many of the kids, they come from a tough background, a background we as adults could not begin to comprehend much less live as a 10-12 year old kid.  This tough background leads to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain.  The drug of choice on the streets is huffing or sniffing gasoline. The fumes give them a high and a sense of warmness to fight of the cold nights on the streets. Other times the older kids force the younger kids to go out and beg for money. The older kids have lost their “cute” appeal or are too old to get the sympathy the younger kids attract.
Photo credit: The Street Child Project
The good news is there are multiple ministries here in Jinja that target street children as their ministry such asChild Restoration Outreach and The Street Child Project. The bad news is that often times the kids would rather live a life on the streets because there are no rules to abide by and honestly it is much more profitable to be on the streets.  The easier life for them, one that doesn’t involve having to go to school or getting a job once they are older, can end up being a life on the street.  There are herds of tourist and mission trip teams that come through Jinja and the kids can hit up a new group every few weeks.   It is a sad cycle that unfortunately keeps repeating itself.
I have come to know a young boy named Mike who is 12 years old.  He has told me his story several times when I have seen him in town.  He told me he was kicked out of the house by an abusive stepfather.  He told me the stepfather threatened to beat him if he came back.  Mike has told me all he wants to do is get enough money so that he can pay school fees and get an education.  Everything about Mike makes you want to help him.  He is cute, charming and tells a very good story. It is so hard to tell a 12-year-old kid no when he asks if I can support him to go back to school.
Remember those ministries I told you about that help with street kids and work in some of the poorest villages?  One of those missionaries knows Mike well and told me he has a home in the village, but chooses to live on the streets because he gets more money and more food working the tourist on the streets.
This is the tough part about dealing with these kiddos.  Which ones really need and want help?  Which ones are choosing a life on the streets?
Kari and I have adopted the policy to not give money to the kids.  However,  I always smile  spend time talking to them to see what is going on in their lives.   I always try to direct them to the ministries  that are there to serve the street children.
Pray for the kids that are on the street that they would come to know the love of Christ  and they would find a way to get off the streets.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Who's that knocking on my gate?

One of the unique things about living here in Uganda is that you never know who is going to show up at your gate.  People knock looking for work, looking for assistance, from some committee or looking for handouts. This happens at least once a week, if not more.

About six weeks ago we had a mother show up at the gate with a child wrapped in a blanket.  There was a huge language barrier with me only knowing bits and pieces of the local language and her only knowing bits and pieces of English.  I understood the point that she was trying to get across is that her child was sick. The mother handed me a wrinkled up piece of paper from a clinic. All I could make out was the child had some testing done and it all came out negative.  She also had a list of medications she was supposed to buy.  Apio was not around to translate for me so I called her and had her translate by phone.  I would pass the phone to the mother and she would pass it back to me and I would get second hand what Apio translated.

From the bits and pieces I could understand the child was sick and could not be treated here by doctors in the local clinics.  Because of her child’s condition she was forced to travel to Mbale, which is about 2-3 hours away.  She was requesting assistance with transport to get her son to the hospital there. Kari and I have really worked hard to developing a plan and a way to help people in need, but we want to make sure that we are doing it in the right way and not just being the westerner who hands out money.  Money is not always the answer.   We want to make sure we are truly helping and not making the situation worse by making someone to become dependent on hand outs. We have tried to let the Holy Spirit lead us in our giving.  One of the hardest things about living here is telling people “no” who ask for money every day. When giving money we want to make sure it is going to the right cause and not going to enabling a cycle of bad habits.  We felt led that day to provide funding for her and her son to get transport and food and get to Mbale.

A few days ago, she showed back up at the gate. This time she was in need of transport money again.  Again the language barrier was there and this time Apio was not available by phone.  I was however able to get ahold of a young man who helps out with the ministry.  Again we did the translation game through the phone, it was a literal game of telephone.  I do not know how much was lost in translation or even if I got the whole story.   
Pierce peeking out the gate to greet visitors

I cannot imagine as a parent, having a sick child and not having the means to get them to the care they needed.  I cannot imagine the pain and anguish of having to go to a complete stranger’s gate and knocking, hoping and praying for assistance to get health care for my child. We are still not even sure how the lady came to be at our gate, maybe God led her there.

Did we do the right thing?  Did we help the situation or make the situation worse?  This is a question we ask ourselves each day when trying to make decisions.  Pray that we will continue to be guided with wisdom from God in dealing with situations like these.