In a recent letter home, I relayed a situation I was in where I simply had to walk away, but I commented, “If I were reading this story in a novel, I’d be so irritated that the character would walk away! Surely she should do something, fight, risk, lead a march, defy the odds and act. Come what may, just do something.” Yet here I was the character in the situation, and I was simply walking away.
I met Jack just a few days before I headed back to the USA for two months. I had known his family for many months, often visiting them since the death of their mother, but had only recently learned that there was a 13-year-old brother living in the streets. He had no known father, and his mother had died this past year. I later learned that I had not yet known him as the rest of the family had cast him off refusing to acknowledge his relationship to the family. I set off to the streets to find Jack, and was soon informed by various boys in the street that Jack had recently been picked up by the police. A visit to a nearby police station led me to the correct jail where delinquent youth are kept. I went to the jail and was able to speak with a police sergeant, a social worker and a chaplain at the jail and also meet Jack. I was informed that boys found in the streets are kept at the jail for two weeks or until a family member claims them. In Jack’s case. No one was coming for him. I asked if it was possible to help Jack, whether I could put him in school, or what other options he might have other than simply returning to the streets until he was picked up yet again by the police to repeat the same cycle. I was told that they would be willing to hold Jack at the jail until I returned and could put him in a boarding school. (Holding only a temporary visa, I had no grounds to ask for him to be allowed to stay with me).
I left for the US not knowing what the outcome would be, but willing to give this child a chance. Though only 13, he’d been living in the streets a year now, and a hard life was leaving its scars. His countenance was that of a grown man. I could scarcely believe I was looking at a little boy of only 13, who would return to school in the 3rd grade if given opportunity.
I had only been back in Rwanda 3 days, when I was on my way to a village a few hours away to visit Jack’s family. As I boarded the bus, I saw him, “Jack?!” He nodded. He’d been back on the streets a few weeks already, but wanted to go along with me to visit his relatives. Along the way, he warned me that his Grandma had told him long ago that he was not welcome at her house, and I already knew that when he had tried to visit his adult sister, her husband had beat him and chased him away. Surely a grandma would be happy to see her grandson, I thought. But Jack was right. His grandmother didn’t even acknowledge his presence for several minutes, then looked at him and scorned, “So you’re still living in the streets?” What else was a boy to do with nowhere else to go? Then Grandma launched into a tirade about how much she despised him and wanted nothing to do with him. Two of Jack’s aunts were present, and neither of them showed any difference of opinion. What could a young boy have possibly done at this age to be cast out of the family?
It was a very long 2 hour drive back to the city with Jack. My heart was heavy for the young boy I’d taken to the only family he had only to be rejected by them again. On top of that, I had no choice but to return him to the very streets where I had found him. I had tried explaining to Jack that though I cared immensely, I had to have legal permission to invite him to my home, that as a foreigner, my bringing home a child would be highly suspect, and that I was still working through visa issues. But it was rainy season, and Jack was sleeping on sidewalks or metal benches at night with no covering. He found what food he could each day and hung out with other boys in the street headed for no future. Trying to do the best I could, I hugged him, gave him a little food and money and my phone number, and told him I’d be back again in a few days. That’s when he looked at me and said, “When are you coming to take me home with you?”
That was the moment when I wanted the character in the story to defy all odds and take that child home; yet I knew that were I to do such, I would not only not be able to help Jack at all in the future, I would also lose the ability to help so many other children I’ve come to know and love. So, I ended up walking away wondering in what kind of world does a person have to walk away to leave a little boy fending for himself in the streets. Apparently the one in which I live.
It’s been a week since I left Jack at the street corner where he stays. I’ve been back to see him 3 times. When I left him yesterday, he dug in his pocket to show me the scrap of paper with my number scrawled on it. I’ve made some phone calls, but still not found a good solution for him. I haven’t lost hope that a door will open and Jack can have a chance at a future. When you say your prayers, be sure to say a prayer for Jack. I’ll be sure to let you know when our prayers are answered.
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