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The Kids are Alright

For one week, we’ve been at the St. Charles school in Mulajje, Uganda. The first day was a blur of 700 children, most wearing their blue school uniforms. But as we have spent more and more time with them, their names have started to roll off my tongue more easily — especially the kids who live on the school grounds.

Stanley was one of the first to stand out, because he had so many questions about the U.S. government and President Obama. I could tell he was smart and very mature for his 15 years. As it turns out, he wants to be the president of Uganda one day. First, he must deal with more pressing concerns: food, water, shelter and an education. And without family support, it’s tough.

Stanley is orphaned, although it’s not the same as we know it in the U.S. After his father died, his mother went with another man, and in this part of the Africa, men don’t take responsibility for another man’s child. So, Stanley went to live with his grandparents, but they can only so so much. So he lives at the school.

The story is similar in many other cases. Patricia also has a mother, who is remarried. Her grandmother is in the hospital, so Patricia takes care of the house. That’s a lot for a school-aged child to take on. She lives at the boarding school during the week because her home is too far. She needs time to study and practice her music. She is a wonderfully talented singer.

The kids at this school all have worries that most kids in the U.S. could never imagine. The threat of malaria and typhoid are always present. They often drink contaminated water because they don’t have time to wait for it to boil. They get sick and some die because they can’t afford medicine or a hospital stay.

Just the other day, a young boy named David came to the health clinic at the school. He had a serious heart condition and an immediate need for medicine. Sister Agnes, who runs the clinic, came to me for help. The boy’s impoverished mother had no way to get him to Kampala for treatment. She said she would need 40,000 shillings to cover the costs involved. That is only $20, but for the people here, it is a significant portion of their income. How do you say no when the little boy, his mother and a Catholic nun are looking to you as a last resort?

David and his mother got on their knees before me and thanked me for the support. The gesture is a show of respect, but it feels very odd to my western senses. The boy even managed to smile through the pain he was feeling.

These children are resilient. Despite the suffering, some can still smile and laugh. They have hopes and dreams hidden beneath their tattered clothes. They are eager for opportunity and just as deserving as anyone else of a chance to become someone some day. Perhaps even a president.

— Laura Watilo Blake