Today we delivered ten-year old James to the Makhai Primary School just outside Mbale, Uganda. It is a mixed matriculation deaf school, which means they have a deaf department, but they also have regular students, and they mix them together with interpreters in class once the deaf children have learned signs. We dreaded leaving him there because of the bond we have formed with him and our fear of abandoning him as he has been abandoned so often, even though we know we are doing the best for him.

On the island, he rode with us one day, went to the training with us and we hadIMG_0491 him all day. At the end of the day, when it was time for us to return to the guesthouse and for him to return to his relatives where he was sleeping, he would have none of us leaving without him. He threw a first-class fit! He fell to the ground at the side of the car and refused to move, so that Alfred had to carry him across the road and deposit him with a relative. However, he beat Alfred back to the car, threw his soda through my window and stood banging and wailing on the car door. Alfred once again carried him across the road and deposited him with the relative who held onto him this time.

IMG_0490We were facing the wrong direction and had to drive out one end of the village to turn around. His wailing followed us out, we turned around and had to pass back in front of him going the other way, and his wailing again followed us out the other end of the village unabated. Alfred was a wreck and I wasn’t that much better.

So we feared a repeat performance at the school when it came time to leave. The head-mistress told us that they had a child similar to James who literally cried for three months, her wailing sounding out over the entire campus.

Here’s what happened with James. The deaf students of all ages came out to meet James when we arrived. During the time I was in the office taking care of final details, the students interacted with him…how can I describe this…”lovingly.” They gave him his “sign name” so he has a name in their community. They carried his gear and mattress from the car to his dorm room and helped him organize his sleeping place. All of this was carried out with excitement, warmth, and enthusiasm, as if adding one more to their community of students is an occasion for celebration.

James, who had first reacted with an angry “don’t touch me” attitude, looked conflicted – he knew what was happening because he is intelligent and he could figure it out from all the gear we had purchased to install him in his dorm, but at the same time he was confused and maybe even nonplussed by this outpouring of affection from peers. He almost immediately began to form a bond with an older student who was shepherding him around and taking great pains to interact with him. I’m pretty sure no one has ever treated him the way these students were behaving.

I expressed some concern to the head-mistress that he would run off as is hisIMG_0505 habit. She said the deaf students are such a close-knit group that they will monitor him themselves, which will probably circumvent his little dashes for freedom that have kept me and Alfred busy for the last few days.

As we were leaving, we hugged him and gave him a token from each of us to remember us by (of course, Alfred will be dropping in every month or so). He immediately waved to the students and started toward the car with us. We stopped and they gathered around him and took him back into the dorm with Alfred, and then, when he was distracted, Alfred came sprinting for the car and we drove off into the night.

Reach out, James, and take the hand that has reached out for you. Hold on tightly and live…

[Pix here are of the deaf students welcoming James and then us saying good-bye. This dormitory is typical of schools and better than what James has probably had to date. Alfred thinks from the state of his sores, fungal infested scalp, and many insect bites that James may have been sleeping outside.]