“I can’t believe we have to leave so soon, I’ve fallen in love with these kids,” I whispered softly into my mom’s shoulder, trying to hide the tears that threatened to slip silently down my cheeks.“I know honey,” my mom said with a knowing gravity, “Me too.” She stroked my hair softly.
After living in Kenya at an orphanage for nearly a month, the thought of being separated by an entire ocean, not knowing if I’d ever see those precious kids again split me down the middle like a fault line, pulling me in different directions. The truth is, I never foresaw the ways this experience would cause me to ache so deeply. I never expected to find a family among the squalor and hopelessness that characterizes rural Africa. At the time, I had no idea my dream would spark a new fire inside of me.
A little boy named Joseph lit the flame.
I met him on my first day in Kenya, and at first he was simply a sweet kid with big brown eyes and a constant runny nose. As we spent long afternoons with one another in the dry Kenya heat, he became so much more than that. Most days you could find me in the midst of a pile of wriggly four year olds with hay clinging to my skirt, and red dirt stained feet. Sometimes we would run around and chase one another, squeals rising like the dust, but when the excited tugging on my arms got to be too much, I’d plop down and we’d sit in a pile of chorused voices and sweet smiles.
They couldn’t say much in English other than my name, so my attentive crowd of little ones would call, “Shayla, Shayla, Shayla,” vying for my attention. Joseph would plunk down in my lap, and I’d contentedly rest my chin on his fuzzy bald head. Those moments were of utmost simplicity. We didn’t need toys or entertainment, we just had each other. I became accustomed to this feeling of plain contentment which reached a pinnacle when Joseph was by my side, his small dark hand slipped into mine.
Only after many weeks together, did I learn Joseph’s story. As a two year old, he and his brother were abandoned on the roadside. Presumably his mama was so destitute, she had to make the most painful decision of her life. The two little boys were absolutely alone, dirty, helpless, and infested with chiggers burrowed into their skin. When I close my eyes I see my little shadow in a torn shirt and ruddy knees holding his brother’s hand on the roadside, too young to understand.
On many nights in Kenya, as I would fall asleep under my mosquito net, I pictured taking little Joseph back to the States with me and adopting him as my own. I would hold his hand through the big scary airport, get him clothes that fit, wipe his runny nose, and hold him when he cried. I knew none of that was realistic or possible, I was fifteen after all, not my time to be a mother when I had an upcoming chem lab or a history paper to be thinking about.
Our departure crept in like thick, dark ink, tainting our final moments. Only hours before our family said our goodbyes, I sat in the cool dewy morning air holding a cup of hot chai tea, Joseph sitting beside me, his legs swinging absentmindedly. As I sat there, I basked in his sweet presence and gulped in the sight of his turned up nose, animated hands, and rambunctious spirit, not wanting our time to end. When the van pulled up--the moment I had long dreaded--Joseph and I walked out to meet it, holding hands for the last time. The kids whom I’d come to adore, engulfed me in a sorrowful embrace, lips trembling.
The rest of my family had already loaded in the van, but I had one last thing to do. I bent down so that Joseph and I were eye to eye and pulled him into my arms. Behind him, were the fields we’d spent hours in together. “Bye Joseph, I love you,” I whispered tenderly into his well worn shirt. In that moment I felt an ache like no other, a longing for a different end to our story.
A month later, my mom and I sat at the kitchen table talking about our loved ones back in Kenya.“Shay, I’ve gotta tell you something I think you’re gonna be really excited about,” my mom said, biting her lip to hide a grin. She grabbed her laptop and slid into the chair next to me. On the screen was a photo of Joseph, with the words needs sponsor. The orphanage where he lives provides for the kids’ needs through personalized sponsorship from people who donate monthly to provide for a child’s basic needs.
New hope lifted a burden I didn’t realize I was carrying.“Mom, I want to sponsor him, I want to make sure Joseph has all that he needs.”A tide of relief flushed over me, knowing I could provide for my little Joseph, even from thousands of miles away. Even if I couldn’t hold him, my babysitting money could buy Joseph a checkered school uniform, pay school fees so he could get an education, and provide enough to eat each day, opening a whole new world of possibility.You too can provide for a child like Joseph.
You too can experience the joy of knowing your support will radically change a life and bring a bounty of hope for their future. If you feel led to sponsor a child through the same wonderful organization that supports Joseph, click here. Or if making a one time donation is a better fit you you, click here.