"nude cyclists, come on, you know you want to ride through a corporate dinner with a box on your head to 'who let the dogs out'!"
That's a recent facebook status update from one of my fb acquaintances. It exemplifies her most recent "project."
One of her earlier projects? Deciding to bring one of the kids from our orphanage over to Canada two years ago for some surgery.
Here's the thing. Her intentions were obviously good. In a burst of involvement a few years ago, this woman went to uganda, met the kids, entertained the heck out of them with her blonde curly hair, scarves, games -- and met this boy. And when a 13 year old boy whose family was killed in front of him, and who was mutilated in a horrifying and humiliating way, asks you who haltingly to help him, the compassionate response seems to be to say yes.
And... it also exemplifies how unbelievably easy it is to do serious harm in the name of good intentions.
Two years ago, box-on-your-head lady used her whirling energy to marshal support to bring this boy to Canada, to get support from a fund to help sick kids and to arrange for some reconstructive surgery. Great project. And, completely harmful.
When she announced her intention, I asked her what the plan was for returning him. She was horrified. "I couldn't bring him bck there! Who could live in Kasese, Uganda?" I asked what the plan was then for keeping him here, since the visa and the fund were very specifically for medical attention only. "I'll keep him if there's no one else," she said passionately, outraged that we would question her.
At the time, we had no authority to say yes or no, and just had to watch this. And watch as yes, he was shifted from that dusty place in western uganda to a plush bedroom in Rosedale, cargo pants and dvds and skateboards. And, predictably, woke up every night screaming in night terrors for months. Box-on-the-head lady couldn't handle it, and the next thing you know, the boy had been handed off.
Since that moment, he's lived in four more places, each family resisting returning him to Uganda, but also unable to continue fostering him. He's here legally, with another three months on his extended visa on "compassionate" grounds -- but he's hardly literate, and, apparently, in every place, can't bond with the men in the family. He's a kind boy, and polite, and loves to swim -- but he doesn't know how to live in a family, and none of the people who've taken him on have been able to give him the one-on-one support he needs to learn how to learn, how to read, how to interact in the ways we expect.
In two weeks, it seems likely that I'm going to have to take him back to Uganda, since we haven't been able to turn up another foster family for him. One interracial female couple seemed perfect, but their hands are full with other kids. Other possibilities just haven't panned out. His English is much better, but he still can't read, and the skateboarding skills he's acquired won't be too much use on the unpaved, rutted roads of Kasese. Medically, he's better, but he's 16 now, with no useful skills -- and what meaning he'll ever be able to make of this two year dream of being passed around from place to place in Canada and then rejected by an entire country is beyond me. Me, I feel sick about it, and angry, and more inclined than ever to pick up a metaphorical cricket bat to direct at the people with well-meaning ideas that they haven't thought through. In my less compassionate moments, I can work up quite a head of steam of fury at the self-aggrandizing aspects of this kind of impulsivity, like the German woman who sends me ingenuous emails every few weeks lamenting that we won't let her bring one of the kids to Germany with her so she can trot her around for a month like a pet.
Unless something changes, I'll be taking the boy back to Kasese at the end of the month. Meanwhile, box-on-head lady has moved on to another project.