Not really sure. I don't think I remember the first time I met him. As I type, I am trying to remember...
I do remember thinking after I knew Joel for a while, he was different. He is older than most of the boys that were at programs. He is around 17 or so. Most of the boys his age didn't come to programs but spent their days doing drugs and causing problems.
Joel would be at programs and would always want to talk. His English is pretty good, so we never had any problems communicating. He would ask questions non-stop! Things about the US, what I thought about Uganda, anything he thought of he asked.
He told me his story. He said that he was working and his mom told him that he needed to move out. So he was giving her money to save for him each week. Well the time came for him to move out and his mom refused to give him the money. So he had to leave and with no money and no place to go, he ended up on the streets. He told me he found his way to Kivulu and saw the programs happening so he just joined in.
I remember one time I found him in Kivulu and he looked terrible. His eye was swollen shut, his clothes were bloody, and he was in pain. He had been robbed and beaten. We took him to the hospital and got him treated. (The doctor was so rude and yelled at me. Actually that happens almost every time I take a kid to the hospital. The doctors are just on power trips and I guess it makes them feel better.) But Joel's eye was swollen shut for a long time. It is amazing that there wasn't permanent damage to it.
Joel always cares about what he looks like. When he was on the street, he would pay someone in Kivulu to keep his clothes. Usually it was the man that washes the clothes and then he would pay extra. (There are little shacks there that run like laundromats. You can take clothes to them and they will wash and iron them. He would pay extra to let them stay there until he needed them.) Even now, he is always concerned about what he wears and how he looks.
A while after meeting Joel, I started to wonder if we could put him in a vocational training program. He told me he had only completed first grade. So that wouldn't be possible. Most vocational schools want the students to have completed at least the first 4 years of secondary school. Not helpful. Then Joel got an opportunity to have a job, but he refused it.
That kind of changed Joel in my mind and everyone else's, except one. I don't blame Joel for refusing. Unfortunately, there is very much a culture of waiting for handouts in Uganda. Don't get me wrong, SO MANY people work so hard EVERY SINGLE day! They work hard without breaks or vacations and are barely making it by. But because of how aid was previously given (just handed out with nothing required of the people) many people prefer to sit and wait for handouts. I don't blame people for this. It is what they have been conditioned to. It is difficult to change a culture that we helped to create, by we I mean foreigners. Now aid is changing and organizations are going to a more works based form of giving (teach a trade, the person makes an item, and then gets paid. Essentially, jobs are created but it is still aid.). We have the same problems here. It isn't just in Uganda.
Anyway, back to Joel...
So like many others, Joel had a sense of entitlement. He made an excuse and refused the job. He wanted a sponsor so he could go back to school and he preferred to wait on the streets until that could happen. Eventually, they kicked him out of programs because he was too old. So he started to stay where Tom and Julius were staying. He became really close with that uncle and another friend. She had always loved him and that is how Joel came to be a part of our family. When Julius and the other boys joined the home, Joel was living with them, so he came too. People told me I shouldn't give him a chance but my friend loved him a lot and believed in him, so I did too. Everyone deserves a chance.
Joel was difficult in the beginning. He missed the uncle he had been staying with and it was really difficult to connect with him. Since then, we have good days and bad, just like with any of the other kids. I know Joel belongs in our family and I am happy he is with us.
|at Lake Victoria|
|with me at the swimming pool|