A picture came across my Facebook news feed this week, a stick-skinny boy, ankles poking out of his black trousers, flat belly peeking between the gaps of his partially buttoned shirt, grimly smiling as he holds out what looks like a tub of margarine. It was posted by Welcome Home Africa, the Ugandan orphanage from which my husband and I adopted our daughter, Ruth.
The local police contacted the home, asking for help for the 12-year-old boy with untreated HIV Aids, who was starving after being forced from his home after both of his parents had died. The boy, who is too old to stay at the orphanage, is currently staying at the police station. Welcome Home provided him with food and is taking him to the clinic this week, paying for medication to treat his condition. Meantime, they are searching for his grandparents, near the Kenyan border, in the hopes that they will provide him with a loving home.
Over the past few years, orphanages have been criticized as an outmoded model for caring for children. Western church missions have been accused of being misguided, or worse, racially motivated — those wealthy whites out to rescue Africa’s poor. But as an American mom who was blessed to share my heart and home with an abandoned child, who happened to be born in Africa, I know another side of this story.
I’ve sat and listened to the heartbreaking tale of a Ugandan mom, living as a squatter beside the railroad tracks, with three sets of twins and no family to help her provide for them. I’ve visited the home of another mother, struggling to work while providing care for her disabled daughter and other children. And I’ve read statistics about a country so overwhelmed by children growing up in crippling poverty, without parents, without homes, that it lacks the resources to care for them all.
The numbers are so large, it’s easy to skim right over them without truly absorbing their impact. Globally 17.8 million children have lost both parents. According to the Christian Alliance for Orphans, this estimate only includes children currently living in a home setting, not the additional 8 million living in institutions. It also doesn’t include most children living on the streets, enslaved by human trafficking, forced to participate in armed groups – or living in police stations, like this boy in Uganda.
I can only imagine what it is like to be 12 and sick and orphaned and living at a police station. It’s easy to forget when we read about so many big numbers that each number is a person. Every one with an incredible, and powerful need and ache to be seen and loved and cared for that we can help fill.
“If you can help your neighbor now, don’t say, “Come back tomorrow, and then I’ll help you,” Proverbs 3:28 (NLT). So why should it matter where that help comes from and to which country it is going? Love knows no borders, so neither should our giving.
To help Welcome Home serve children like this and their families, you can donate here.
Meadow Rue Merrill, the author of Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine.