Last week, Solomon began attending St. Anthony Nursery School, where many of the youngest students in CARITAS child sponsorship programs attend preschool. Although Solomon is eleven years old, last Thursday was his first day of formal schooling. His story is one of both tremendous hardship and incredible potential.
From a young age, Solomon’s mobility has been severely restricted by a physical disability that prevents him from walking without assistance – a situation that presents a particular challenge in rural Uganda, where paved roads, indoor bathrooms, and handicap accessible facilities are few and far between. Last year, he began living at Providence Home, a care facility run by the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, for impoverished, orphaned, disabled, and otherwise vulnerable people, many of whom are children.
Solomon was left at Providence Home by his mother, who felt that she could no longer care for him. Separated from her husband, she is forced to travel around the region looking for work, spending a day planting corn here, or selling mangoes there, in an effort to provide for her other three children. Leaving a child behind is not a decision anyone makes easily.
Although the Sisters at Providence Home have provided Solomon with a walker, it is meant for an adult – so it is a little bulky for him to handle. This walker was all that the Sisters had on hand. Solomon's walker helps him get around in the classroom but maneuvering outdoors presents a challenge. Solomon's classmates are pretty good about helping him move about, pushing the walker over rocks for example, but the trips outside the classroom are still a struggle. He has already fallen from his walker and hit his head so Sr. Lydia, another caretaker at Providence Home, is looking for alternatives. A wheelchair is not a good option for him, because it is important for him to continue exercising his legs. Funds are not immediately available for a walker fitted to Solomon's size.
Yet, despite tremendous physical and social challenges, Solomon has grown up to be a very happy, intelligent boy. When I checked in at Providence Home to see how he was adjusting to school, Sister Angeline, the head administrator, said, “You know, he came home from school and, with a big smile he told me, ‘Sister, I am bright!’”
Solomon is right – he is a very bright boy. Although he lacks formal schooling, he can read letters, add double digit numbers, and hold simple conversations in English. After just one day of classes, he was moved from St. Anthony’s youngest class to its most advanced class.
As I watch Solomon's progress, always accompanied by an eager grin, I can't help but marvel at his resilience. At only eleven years old, he has faced so many challenges – limited mobility, lack of education, adapting to an unfamiliar, new environment – yet he smiles, studies with the other students, and excels in his class.
I think that Solomon’s story – and his bright personality – speak to the value of investing in young people in Uganda, who, despite tremendous hardship, have incredible potential. When you sponsor a child your investment in their future will ensure that young people like Solomon are able to reach their full potential, helping them to make amazing transitions – sometimes as dramatic as transitioning from abandonment to the top of the class.
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