We had to pick up a generator in Kampala, so after a very hectic day, we arrived, completed our business, and were in a hotel by 7:30 pm.

We are back on the mainland and back on the grid.

This is probably the worst post I will ever have to write, though maybe “saddest” is the better term. I apologize ahead for the length. I write to inform my readers that the deaf boy, James, whom many of you have followed with great interest and generosity, has run away. I hesitated to write about it earlier until I returned to Uganda and could assess the situation directly. Now, after a year, we are back, and this is the sad, but hopefully unfinished, story of that event.

At the school’s Christmas break (two months) it was necessary to find a place for James. James is a bit of a wild child, having grown up on the street. At other holidays, there have been discipline issues at times, which in Uganda means that some adult has ended up “caning” him, which is to spank him with a thin cane or stick from a nearby bush. This seems to be the go-to for almost all child discipline issues here and is commonly called “caning” or “beating.”

On top of that, here is a boy who has had no language or meaningful teaching of any kind until the last three years in school. He has no concept of property ownership or boundaries – if he sees an open door, he walks in; if he sees something he likes, he picks it up. He is probably 13 now and has been schooled a little, has limited language with his signs, and can read some and write some. It is very difficult to determine what he understands and what he doesn’t, and, frankly, what he doesn’t choose to understand. He is intelligent, street-wise, and, well, 13 years old.

Last picture we have of James.

Does he understand what stealing is? We have no idea. Frequently, his discipline issues have involved thievery, which, for context, is one of the ways he survived alone for so long, though he had some relatives who vaguely “looked after” him, but unfortunately most often with the result of further caning. I’m pretty sure caning a child who does not really know why he is being caned is ineffective discipline and only causes enmity which seems to be James’ current view of his relatives whenever he sees them.

Our hope was that as he gained language in a controlled school environment, he would slowly come to understand that the world is not his own personal oyster, nor are all these people his enemies to defeat with guile. I fear that we are not far enough along this track to solve the many related problems.

This Christmas holiday of 2018, Alfred, our employee and partner in Meade International, offered to take James for the holiday break. Alfred and James have a strong bond and it seemed a perfect fit.

During his stay with Alfred, James managed to create only a few “incidents” in the neighborhood around Alfred’s home in Bugembe. He seemed to develop relationships with the neighbor children well enough, because, as we have seen from the beginning, James is full of leadership potential, and this has been repeatedly confirmed at his school. Most of the difficulties involved either normal mischief or thievery, and Alfred and I spent a good deal of email time discussing strategies to deal with him, including finding deaf people who knew signs who could help communicate important concepts to him, like “Quit stealing, for goodness sake!” In all this time, stealing has never come up at the school teacher conferences, with us, at least, and whenever we would give James something like candy or treats, he immediately would begin sharing them among his friends – in fact, he has been the most naturally generous child I have ever met.

At the end of December, James suddenly and inexplicably disappeared from Alfred’s home. Alfred, justifiably frantic, put out every form of lost child alert he could think of, including radio announcements and police reports, though generally, the people avoid involving the police here as much as possible. Nothing solid came back to him, except many false leads of deaf boys here and deaf boys there, which he spent much time tracking down only to find it was not James. Then finally, he received a call from the church leaders on Buvuma Island, out in Lake Victoria, where we first found James. James was there.

Somehow, without obvious funds or normal language skills or even well-developed signs, James had made his way

One of our first pictures of James.

to the island. We have no way to know how he accomplished this because of the language difficulties and because of James, himself. Alfred rented a vehicle, went to Buvuma and retrieved him, finding that he had been beaten at least once, probably for theft – James was happy to see him and ran and embraced him as if all was well. When they got back home, Alfred engaged the help of a deaf man to communicate with him, but James just smiled and laughed, and gave no explanations. He is thirteen, after all, which, considering his difficult life, is probably more like 35 in a 13 year old body.

All seemed well for a week or so. Alfred watched him closely, and kept him close. However, during a Sunday morning walk to church, James slipped away again – Alfred describes it as looking away for a moment, then looking back and he was gone. Alfred realizes in reconstructing events that James was probably planning this “escape.”

Since the second week of January, Alfred has not seen James, though he has done everything he could think of to find him. He even went into the city, Jinja, at night, a matter of ten miles or so, and formed “relationships” with the street children there, showing them James’ picture. Among those children, there were many “sightings” of James coming and going, and Alfred continued for a month going at 4:00 a.m. and other night hours to meet with the children, offer rewards for information, etc., etc.

The strongest possibility in all this time is a report of a deaf charcoal peddler who travels around the region selling charcoal to households, and who has recently been seen with a deaf boy of James’ description assisting him. Unfortunately, after many attempts to find this man, Alfred only misses him by minutes every time – “he was just there a short time ago” – and we, ourselves, experienced this same dynamic with him in Jinja several times while trying to find the charcoal man.

James mugging for the camera with Faith.

Please pray for James and his return to us and to the school. James seemed to love the school and was always happy to return there to his many friends when we would take him out for a little adventure. So why run away? I think, but cannot prove, that he did not understand that moving to Alfred’s house was only for a holiday. There was no way to explain such an abstract idea to a boy who had never known holidays, and he has been moved and abandoned and alone so much of his life that it is impossible to know what he was thinking. Perhaps he thought school was finished for him and, after a few weeks, decided to strike out on his own as he has always done.

We just don’t know. Pray against child abuse, child trafficking, and all the horrible things we are forced daily to push aside so that we can persevere in the hope of recovering him. Our hearts are broken. We write this with tears. Please, cry out to God on James behalf.

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