We hear all the time, or we experience first hand, the lengths to which an American parent will go for his or her child. Sacrificing retirement to pay for college, going without that last piece of pie at Thanksgiving, staying up all night with a sick child, helping with science fair projects, etc. Well, the same can be said for parents over here.
A worried father, I’ll call him Silas (not his name), came to see me a few weeks ago. Tim had been treating his 12 year old son, a boy with epilepsy and a myriad of other health problems (Tim was treating one of his other problems), and had sent him to Nairobi for a catscan. We knew this man before his son went to the hospital. He built an outside storage shed for us so we would have a dry place to store our firewood and the gardening tools, Deste’s bike, etc. A few days later, Paul, the dad (also not his name), showed up on our doorstep, hungry, exhausted and in tears. The hospital in Nairobi would not do the cat scan on young Paul until the father could produce 48,000 ksh (about $480 USD). Not sure if this picture adequately illustrates the truth that the hospital may as well have demanded $4,080 dollars, or $40,080, from this man — but it’s true. Because we are blessed with supporters who so richly bless us, we were able to pay this bill for the family. The doctors later released little Paul, but wrote some “essentials” down about materials the family needs to provide adequate care for him.
- Because little Paul often has seizures in the night, the family was instructed to procure a mattress of some kind on which he could sleep, rather than sleeping on the cement floor with the rest of the family in their 9′ by 10′, one room house (with no electricity or running water).
- For his bones to harden (another problem), he must take calcium supplements each day and also must drink 3 glasses of milk. No cow. No milk-goat. No money for milk nor medicine.
- Paul needs to eat at least twice per day, to help strengthen his small frame and help him to grow.
Seeing this list, and seeing the Dad obviously wasn’t eating much at all each day, either — I looked about my house and realized, although we live on maybe 10% of what we lived on when we lived in America – that we own and enjoy an exponentially larger amount of goods than do our neighbors here. Ashamed and disgusted with our over-consumption (we sometimes end up throwing out food that goes bad before we can eat the leftovers, for instance) – – I realized we had an extra mattress in our home that we keep ready for slumber parties for our teens. Yet, it hardly ever is needed. An epileptic child is sleeping on a cement floor, and we have a mattress tucked away in a closet that is only used about 3 times a year?
|Paul (facial features deleted to protect privacy)|
|Paul, Silas and their family.|
With the help of a friend, I loaded up the mattress, blankets, pillows and some other fun things, and we headed to Silas’s house. I wanted so much, after arriving, to take pictures of the surroundings to help my American friends understand, or grasp, the wide discrepancy between what we have and what most of the rest of the world has. Yet, I simply could not take the pictures without hurting their dignity. I did take one happy picture of the family in their home. Somehow, as I stood there in Silas’s house, barely fitting inside due to the new mattress, and the fact that 7 people were crammed in a very, very small room, I thought of my home country, and I wished so much that my loved ones and all my fellow Americans could visit here just once. Just one week or two! When we as Americans get down because our child didn’t make the club volleyball team, or because we can’t afford to buy a car for our 16 year old this year, or whatever……I think it would help us to realize that others around the world struggle to provide for their children, as well, only often, the things they are working so hard to provide are things we take completely for granted – like having a mattress.
I wish my American friends could come here and meet people who work 12, 14, sometimes 16 hour days, at back breaking work, and then realize they do all that while only eating one meal a day. I wish they would walk home with them, and see that they live in a shack with a leaky tin roof (or a mud thatched roof), that there are holes in the walls large enough for snakes to enter their home – and that they often do – that all the family sleeps in the same room – because the house only IS one room. That they use a community outside “pit toilet” (outhouse) that smells to high heaven — and that sometimes (rarely, but it happens), little kids fall in. I wish they could visit their childrens’ schools and realize, public school is not free here – people must pay school fees for their children to attend, and even so, often there are 50, 60, 80 children per class. One teacher. No teacher’s aid. No copy machine. No glass or screens on the open air windows. No electricity. I wish they could see that the children behave beautifully in these schools – there are ZERO discipline problems – because education is valued and prized and no child wants to ever live through telling his mom or dad that he was sent home for disobeying or disrespecting his teacher.
I wish I could share my beautiful adopted land with my beloved American friends. I am blessed to get to have the best of both worlds……to have lived on both sides of the “pond”, as they say. Parents love their children in countries all over this world, and children love puppies in many countries, too — and we all have fears, sometimes irrational, terrifying fears — that sometimes love and hugs from a furry friend can dispel. Maybe even more than realizing that East Africans and Americans all love their children, too, maybe we can hope or realize that both sides of America include millions of parents who “love their children, too”. We are all wanting to take care of our children, right? Here’s hoping we can all (me included!) learn to love one another, to hear one another, and to give grace to all we meet, as Jesus gives so much love and grace to us.