We were walking home one Sunday afternoon when the hospital guards stopped us just outside the gate. “Doctor, what can we do with this boy?” He was curled up on the dusty ground, wrapped in tan clothing much too large for his slight 13 year old frame. Mark took one look at his legs and said, “Get him into outpatient. We will take care of him.” But that statement is easier made than implemented. This boy was a street boy with no one to take care of him. It was going to take a lot of footwork and man hours to figure out a plan for his future. But first of all, he needed medicine. We got him a hospital card and had him seen in outpatient. They really didn’t want to admit him but we insisted. How would his legs heal on the street? Later our visiting surgical team from Atlanta looked at his legs and affirmed that he needed to be admitted for treatment. He was placed on antibiotics and shown how to wash his body and legs. On Monday when I went down to the hospital to check on him, Mileus, one of our translators, asked to talk to me. He said there was another street boy in the hospital who was causing a problem with the patients. Would I come and see him too? So I first checked on Syntayoo and then went to the medical ward to see the other boy. I was not prepared for what I saw.
This boy was tragic. He was 10 years old and had been on the streets for one year. He had been brought into the hospital suffering from a seizure. Now his vacant eyes stared right through me. A response to my questions would take up to 10 seconds and then he would answer in broken words. The head nurse was worried about him because he was wandering the hallways at all hours of the night and soiling his bed. She said he needed someone to stay with him or he needed to be discharged.
As a foreigner and being fairly new in the country, I really did not know what to do. This problem was fast becoming too large for me to handle and it was obvious that the nurses definitely did not want to take care of it. In the states this problem would be turned over to a social worker. Here it looked looked as if I was the social worker. The nurse gave me two days grace to find a solution to the boy’s problem. Walking back to my house, I turned it over to Jesus. “Jesus, I know you love orphans and I know you love children. What do I do?” First I needed a short term solution. I had to find someone to stay at the hospital with the boys. Second, I had to look for the long term solution. What would we do with the boys when they were ready to be discharged? I felt like He told me to ask my housekeeper, Demeketch. So I went home and presented the problem to her. She said she had a friend who needed work. She would ask her. The next day I met Tawabitch. I liked her at first sight but when Jackie Anderson’s housekeeper walked out of her house and hugged Tawabitch, and told me she was a good Christian woman, I knew she was sent from God. It was the affirmation I needed. We moved both boys into the same room so that Tawabitch could keep an eye on them. She slept at the hospital and ministered to them. She acted like a mother to both boys. Now I needed to look for the second solution. What to do with the boys?
Becca Gray, Nurse Sophie and I went looking one afternoon for the Catholic sisters of Charity in Soddo. We had heard there might be a place for children with severe disabilities that had no family. Our first stop was the Catholic Church headquarters. The clerk didn’t know where the nuns lived but he suggested we ask the Bishop. The Bishop? We didn’t even know there was a Bishop in Soddo. We walked over to his house and he greeted us warmly. The Italian Bishop said he would locate the nuns for us. He called their house and another worker showed us the way. The nuns were sympathetic to our plight but they said the home for children was full. They reiterated what we already knew. The best solution was to locate the family. Back on the compound, I talked to Jackie Anderson about the problem. She said the hospital had hired a part time social worker and she would talk to him.
Slowly, the little boy with epilepsy improved and his mind cleared. Initially, I thought he was autistic but as the medicine took effect and good food filled his tiny body, his eyes cleared and he began to talk. He had fled his home over one year earlier when his mother threatened to spank him. He had hopped on a truck and come to Soddo. Now he wanted to go home. This seemed to be the solution to this boy’s future. Our new social worker at the hospital took him home this past weekend. His family was overjoyed to see their child again. This story seems to have a happy ending.
Now for Syntayoo. His story was more complicated. His mother died four years ago and his father abandoned the family. He had been living with his uncle and small brother but the uncle drove him out. He helped out on a farm with another family but when his legs got so bad that he could no longer work, they drove him out. When he ended up in Soddo, we were the third hospital that he tried to get into. He had only been on the streets of Soddo for one month. We pursued his treatment and with nutrition, antibiotics and antibiotic cream, soap and lotion and minor surgery and his legs markedly improved. When he was ready for release I could see that we had three choices. Number one, we could send him back to the streets. Number two, we could send him back to his uncle. And number three, we could find a family in Soddo that he could live with. Again through much prayer we asked Jesus what to do. Tawabitch knew a widow who she said might be interested in taking the boy in. On Thursday, we learned that the widow would take him in but for a price. Her only income was injera making and she had one 14 year old son. We met her and she seems nice enough. We are hoping for a happy ending but I know his story is not over. Before we sent him to her home, Melius and Syntayoo went to the shops to buy new clothes. First he got his hair cut and then we bought 2 pair of pants, shorts, underwear, sandals, tennis shoes, socks, two shirts and sunglasses. This came to about $60.00. After that Melius took him to purchase a bed. He moved in with the widow.
But as I said previously, taking care of street boys is easier said than implemented. Today I met our local Peace Corps worker, Daniel, at 8:00 A.M. to take Syntayoo and register him for school. We walked several miles to the prearranged meeting place. He and his caretaker did not come. Later, after I had walked another two miles home I met the care-worker at the hospital. The messages had been mixed up and they came to the hospital instead of the designated meeting place. So, we will have to schedule another meeting. In the meantime, Mark and I will fund his care and hope for the best.
The street boy problem in Soddo is significant. Estimates indicate that there are anywhere from 1000-2000 boys on the streets at any given time. This is a common problem in developing countries and Ethiopia is not exceptional in the problem. But this is something I would like to see the local church take ownership of. The needs here are daunting and one has the feeling of impotence in the face of so much need. But we know that Jesus loves children and especially orphans. He will give us the strength and ability to care for these children.