In Canada, I was sitting at the picnic table in my friend’s backyard, watching all her family members who had gathered to celebrate a 25th wedding anniversary mingle about, share, laugh. A woman joined me saying she had heard about my involvement with orphaned children and wanted to tell me a story. Awesome!
Her young child’s soccer team had decided they wanted to do something to help orphaned children in Africa. Seeing as soccer was the reason they were all together and because soccer ( football ) is such a treasured sport in many African countries, they had decided the children here would do a fund raiser to purchase soccer shoes that they would send over to be distributed to orphaned children there.
With children excited and parents on board, they went about their fund raising tasks and soon had accumulated lots of financial donations. They purchased many pairs of new soccer shoes in various children’s sizes, packaged them up and sent the off!
Somewhere on the receiving end of the process, the boxes of shoes went missing. I don’t know where, how and with whom they had organized the receiving and distribution of the shoes. She did say, they never got to the children they were intended for. The children and parents here were stunned, sad and even angry.
I could certainly understand them all wanting to do something to help and it was so beautiful to see their generous hearts reaching out and taking action for orphaned children. I remember telling her that. I could also see and feel her pain and confusion as well as that of the children here along with their parents and I told her that too. I couldn’t explain what had happened, but I could imagine it for sure. Then I told her a little of what I learned about this sort of thing where I was in Uganda.
Most of the kids I’ve come to know do not own a pair of shoes, let alone ones for a particular sport. Many own nothing but the well worn, often over sized clothing on their backs. It’s most common to see children running barefoot kicking soccer balls of some sort, some with home made balls created out of discarded plastic bags scrunched and tied together. If the children I have met were to recite a list of what they need most in life, soccer shoes along with other things I’ve heard people collect here and send there would probably be among the last items they’d ever think of. I’m sure the kids would find them great fun to wear, they just wouldn’t think of them because they’re not a part of their context or in line with the present level on their “hierarchy of needs”… the kids I’ve met.
In a kind of paradoxical way, I suggested, and without considering the other ripples of such an action of stealing them, the soccer shoes gone missing could have been a greater Blessing for some orphaned children than actually receiving them. She asked how.
I tried to explain – imagine you’re an orphan living in extreme poverty… pretty much everyone around you knows you are an orphan. You don’t own anything really. Somehow, you’ve happened to be in “the right place at the right time” and you’ve received a brand new pair of soccer shoes. Of course, you’re happy! You have received something unique, obviously valuable, from somewhere very far away and from people who are so rich they send soccer shoes for free! Depending on your present size, awareness and circumstance, you may have some serious things to consider. Will the shoes empower you or add to your vulnerability? Should you hide them? Do you wear those shoes? Knowing many will notice, do you take the chance that others will gang up on you, maybe beat or even kill you for your shoes… shoes, that very few around you have. What about your brother or your sister, did they get some too? Should you try and trade them for food, or a blanket, or a school book or if you’re an older child do you offer them as bribe to a younger child for sex or for committing a crime for you? You’re a child, and the scenarios are endless.
One of the greatest things I’ve learned so far from the children is this. If we use time to ask questions and listen to the answers, the children will tell us and show us what they most need and, how we can best help to empower them, step by step. They are after all remarkably strong and resilient children, very awake to life and survival. As adults, if we are unable to connect directly with the children for ourselves I highly recommend asking and listening to those that are. There are many on the ground with experience, awareness and kind, Loving hearts.