My wife Gail’s report after the November 2015 visit with James, the ten-year old deaf boy we rescued from Buvuma island (for other stories about James, type “James” in the search bar at the top of my website page):
The next day was “James” day. I was so excited to finally meet James and see how he was doing after only 4 months of school.
We found him well and happy and learning to learn. I tried to use some of my American Sign Language, but he didn’t understand me. I did talk to the teacher of the deaf at the school, who is deaf, and she and I could communicate some. There were many differences and many similarities of signs. I am very rusty at “reading” signs and better at sending them out! Still, it was quite exciting!!
James finally came in from playing and was a little shy with us, but soon warmed up to Alfred and Bob. For me, the highlight was when James got out his school composition books and began to show Bob how many things he can name by sight and sign. What a marvelous difference from this boy who had no language at all. It was beautiful to see!
Alfred with James, when we first met him.
The goodbye was difficult for all of us. We did finally get a small wave, no smile, from James as we pulled away. A tearful moment for all of us.
I have now seen for myself the hope of reclaiming this small life. There is still much work to be done in his spirit and his learning. There is still a lot of wildness and anger and frustration. But the work has begun and we will continue to love James and watch him grow. It is a wonderful assignment from God!
In the time between then and now, James did not do well at the school. He could not sit in class for more than a few minutes, but would jump up and go out to play. Mind you, this ten-year old has never sat in a classroom before in his life, couldn’t understand the signs of the teacher or the lessons, and so, got bored quickly and couldn’t see the point of it. Additionally, the administrator of the school seemed to dislike James, perhaps because a musungu had placed him there and she was jealous – this attitude is fairly common – or perhaps because he is a wild and uncontrollable child.
She limited his food at meals compared with the other children, denied him the use of the bed that she insisted I buy for him, giving it instead to another child, making James sleep on his mattress on the floor – this is not as bad as it sounds since most of the children sleep in that manner and there are only two beds for the twenty or more in the dorm room. When I visited, she made a big show of pointing out “James’ good bed,” but behind her a teacher was looking at me and shaking her head, later telling me the truth. In most regards, she was generally unpleasant to him.
James was certainly a handful – he wandered incessantly, traveling widely around the neighborhood, occasionally rummaging in people’s houses and returning to show Catherine, the one teacher who mothers him and with whom he has formed a solid bond, the sunglasses he “found,” or the flashlight, or the scarf. How do you explain stealing to a boy with no language, no parental guidance most of his life, and no “morality” as we would know it? Catherine disciplined him, which he has only accepted from her, but who knows what gets through to his young and confused thoughts? For all these things, the neighbors have complained, and so the administrator has reacted to the “problem” rather than the desperately needy child before her, even though she is a professional teacher, trained to handle such cases.
It became necessary for us to move James to a new school. Finally, after some research, we found a school near Mbale, where he currently is, but on the other side of the city. It is a school with only deaf students, no mix of hearing and deaf children as in the first school. This school has another huge benefit over the other one – it is inside an enclosed compound. At this school, James will not be able to wander the
countryside at will, for the only way in and out is a gate with a guard.
Arrangements were made and Alfred moved James in February to the Kavule Parents School for Deaf. This school has a large compound with about 80 students from primary through secondary. I asked the administrator, about whom I will report more later, how he would handle such a wild child as James. He explained to me that because deaf children are outcasts in Uganda, their parents not knowing how to deal with them, most who arrive have been kept at home, developing few disciplines, no language, ranging widely through their neighborhoods and getting in all manner of trouble. James is no different, he explained. So I repeated my “test question” – How will you handle this difficult child. He gave me perhaps the perfect answer: “We will be friends with him.”
James with Catherine (red dress) and us.
And so it has been. I arrived yesterday at the compound for my first visit with James since his traumatic second move, a move away from Catherine, the only one he has bonded with other than Alfred and me. Catherine was with us – she insisted on coming with us and brought James some of his favorite food.
I stepped out of the vehicle and walked around to survey the large compound. As I stood by the car, I heard a high-pitched squeal. I turned to see a small boy in an orange uniform shirt charging from one of the classrooms. He raced across the grass, threw his arms around me, laughing and smiling, and, I can hardly type the words through blurry eyes, actually hugged me and hugged me and hugged me.
If, after these many trips to Uganda, with all the teaching and training and church-planting, this one life is all that is touched, it will be enough for me.
[More on James next blog entry.]