“Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s or sister’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Brother, Sister, let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when you don’t see the log in your own eye? You deceive yourselves! First take the log out of your eye, and then you sill see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.” Luke 6:41-42
Last Wednesday, I met Mary, an American NP who runs a clinic near-ish to my guest house. For the past few years, she’s been working with boys from the government orphanage in Kolfe. I was very interested to hear from her because it is VERY unlikely that I will gain access to this institution—the government in Ethiopia is really cracking down on outsiders visiting, for good and bad reasons. I’ve visited many private care institutions while in Addis. Some are well funded, staffed, and organized. Others are struggling a bit, but they are doing what they can. What Mary told me about the boys’ life in Kolfe was mind-blowing. First, there’s hardly any adult supervision, the boys are mainly left to their own devices during the day, which means that there are very few adults modeling socially appropriate behavior. The boys have developed their own rules for living and interacting within the orphanage, which does not translate well to the outside community. Because of this, they are perceived as problem children and delinquents. Although they attend school, they are stigmatized, which further exacerbates the situation. Because the children are seen as criminals, whenever something happens in the Kolfe neighborhood, the police will raid the orphanage. It is normal for the boys to be pulled from their beds in the middle of the night.
When the boys turn 17, the orphanage gives them a little bit of money and sends them on their way—no vocational training, housing support, nothing. The older boys, who have aged out, can be found hanging out outside of the orphanage because it’s the only place they feel at “home.” Until last year, they would often scale the walls at night and to have a place to sleep, then the government heightened security. Many of the boys end up in jail, others bounce from place to place. Yes, there are programs that offer work training and rehabilitation, but the boys have never been taught how to be responsible. Showing up every day, on time for a program is so foreign to them that they have trouble completing these programs. Without interventions specifically designed for them, they have little chance of living a happy, healthy life.
Mary has helped convince a local church to offer Saturday afternoon Bible classes to the younger boys, which I attended with her the other day. Even though she had previously told me about the life conditions of these boys, I still was unprepared for what I encountered. I met around 20 boys between the ages of 9 and 15, though it was difficult to tell the teenagers apart from the younger ones. Their clothes were ragged, full of holes and obviously had not been washed for some time. Mary brings her medical kit with her in case any of the boys are feeling ill, and she told me that she wanted to check on a few of them. She believes one has pneumonia, and I was shocked to hear that the boy would have to be literally on his deathbed before the orphanage would take him to be treated somewhere. An older boy, who is about to age out, was recently hit on the head with a bottle and now cannot see out of one eye. The orphanage staff told him to wait and see if his vision got better. When we were sitting together, some of the boys told Mary and I that last Sunday the church had actually extended a welcome to them—the congregation told the boys that they were prepared to support them. The boys were overwhelmed; they couldn’t believe that someone in the community actually cared about them.
|Some of the boys from Kolfe|
It’s shocking, appalling, horrifying to see. I was so angry: angry at the Ethiopian government for caring so little for it’s own children, angry with the Kolfe community for ostracizing these boys who are in desperate need of care and support, angry with the church for needing some foreigner to convince them to follow Christ’s very obvious call in this situation, and angry with NGOs and private care institutions for leaving Kolfe alone because they don’t want to make waves with the government. Because they were unlucky enough to have been orphaned and unlucky enough to be sent to Kolfe instead of a private institution, these boys now face a bleak future—and it seems as if no one cares.
It’s easy for us as Americans—alien to Ethiopia—to feel righteous anger in this situation, but anger can only be righteous if it’s free of hypocrisy. Witnessing the lives of the Kolfe boys should force to take a good look at our own culture and society in regards to underserved children. Because guess what, we do the same thing in the U.S. all the time. We write off children of certain backgrounds, from certain areas, with certain behavioral “problems” as delinquents and unworthy of sympathy: children of single mothers, children of color, children from rural areas, children from low-income families, children in the foster care system, children who have had run-ins with the law, the list goes on. Our government and our society fails these children every day. We refuse to fund their education, we refuse to ensure adequate nutrition and health care, we refuse to even think about firearm regulations that would make the streets safer, we refuse to fix a broken social service system, and we refuse to go out and actually go out and engage them in relationship. I feel sometimes that the Church is so eager to “help” children in the two-thirds world that they neglect the children in their own communities. Sure, a wealthy church in Chicago could spend their entire mission budget on supporting the Kolfe boys, but this would mean nothing if they refuse to even think about youth outreach on the South Side.
|Fearless Leading by Youth (FLY) on the South Side|
So here I am, trying to find the balance between global and local action. I am only in Addis for three more weeks, and I’m going to do what I can for the Kolfe boys. I’ll make sure that their stories are heard and recorded, that IOFA will use their input in designing interventions so that others don’t end up in such dire situations. I am also reaching out to the different organizations I’ve connected with here to see if Mary and I can organize some kind of network so that the boys can be referred to programs that can help. And when I return to Chicago, I’ll keep their faces on my heart so that I can stay motivated in my work with the Trauma Center Campaign and the Radical Peacemaking Team—two faith-based initiatives working to save and improve the lives of underserved youth. And I ask of you the same, let the boys of Kolfe inspire you to take a look at what you, and the church, are doing for the children in your community.