A World With More Nan's

This is Brett. I’ve never met Brett, but I love him a lot.  There are two main reasons I love Brett: 1. He was a little boy with Down Syndrome and it’s impossible for me to not love a child with a disability 2. It was because of his special needs that I met his mom, Nan, who is quite possibly the most passionate human being I have ever met.

 

One of my pastors from The Upper Room found out I was starting Uphold and said “You’ve gotta meet Nan! She… well she… well… she does… I guess everything for everyone with special needs. You just have to meet her.”

 

From a young age I’ve had a habit of adopting myself into families and Nan became one of my adoptive parents within 30 seconds of meeting her.  Nan makes me seem calm.  She’s in her 50’s and goes on mountain biking trips with her girlfriends, she and her husband Paul have a fully furnished apartment in their basement they give to young people to live in while they pursue careers in ministry and her picture is pasted in the dictionary next to the term “go-getter”.  History tells us that all big movements for inclusion and acceptance of children with disabilities were always spearheaded by parents of the children who loved and saw value in their child and after meeting Nan I know that has to be true. The love and work she pours into making the world a better place for children with special needs makes me look like I just think these kiddos are “okay.” She is a force to be reckoned with.

 

Nan had two equally perfect children born to her. Drew lives in CO and Brett lives in heaven. Brett was born with Down Syndrome and exited this world way too soon by means of Leukemia at age 8. The moment I start to imagine the amount of pain that Nan had to endure through this process I begin to get nauseous.  A tragedy so extreme, she easily could have become bitter and let it darken and dampen the rest of her life but instead she became the world’s biggest advocate for children with special needs.  She went on to start Young Life here in MN for teens with special needs and eventually started Beyond Limits, a college for adults with disabilities.  I recently spoke to her about our upcoming parent empowerment project with Uphold and she was more excited about it than I am, a fete I didn’t know possible.

 

She went on to tell me that when Brett died she wanted to advocate for parents.  Through his passing she learned so much about resources and rights of parents and children with disabilities and she started local courses to educate everyone she knew who needed help. She had the passion because of her son, and through horrible circumstances, she now had the free time to lend her expertise to those who needed it.

 

When I think about the upcoming parent empowerment project with Uphold Global I get chills because I imagine a world filled with Nan’s.  I want to live in a world filled with Nan’s.  I want to live in a world with people who have learned to not only see beauty in disability but who can’t imagine a beautiful world without it. When I dream about what success looks like at the end of this project it’s not just a bunch of parents who know what causes their child’s disability, but parents who are now so enamored at the beauty in their child that they feel compelled to go help other parents and children.  I see a movement of Nan’s, creating other little Nan’s within their communities.  Woah.

 

Our parent empowerment course costs $10 per family per week for 9 weeks.  This includes a meal for the entire family, support and community with other parents of children with special needs and a course that focuses on disability causes, communication techniques for children with special needs, occupational therapy at home, discipline and encouragement, additional services available to them, and how to educate others in their community who think their child is cursed.

 

Brett didn’t need Uphold Global to provide for his daily needs because he had a “Nan” in his life. Brett was so lucky to have a Nan.  By watching the way that she loves others she’s not related to, I’m convinced he was one of the luckiest children in the world because while his life was way too short, he had the ORIGINAL Nan who did and would have done anything for him.  That is what I want for each of the children we work with.  I want to give them the world; I want to give them a Nan.  The beautiful thing about our project is that there is no guess and check required to find a solution. We don’t need to cure diseases or create jobs for the entire world; the solution is simple: LOVE. Lots and lots of love. We can’t force love, but can educate, encourage and empower our parents with love to love and that is enough.

 

Please pray and consider donating to our parent empowerment project and providing children like Brett in Africa with incredible parents like Nan who will be their child’s best advocates.

 

Real MVP: Josh Pavano

Q: Tell us about the first person you meet with a disability and what that interaction was like? How did you feel? What did you learn from that experience?

 

A: I guess I don’t know the exact time I meet someone with a disability. From a young age my family participated in foster care so we had a lot of children with both physical and mental disabilities in and out of the house as I grew up. To me I didn’t really think too much of it, it was my reality; I didn’t know anything else. So, to me, all the kids who came into my house were my temporary brothers and sisters and I treated them as such. I think that experience really ingrained a sense of acceptance in me. It taught me everyone is deserving of love and safety – my parents’ commitment to those kids showed me how to be compassionate and caring. The impact of this experience wasn’t really anything I thought about until much later in my life, but I definitely see it reflecting in how I view all people now.

 

Q:  What is the strongest relationship you’ve had with an individual with a disability or special needs? 

 

A: My brother was adopted at the age of one and half, but we actually had him in our house from the moment he left the hospital. I was twelve when I first held him. 

 

He is my only brother and although our age difference is pretty significant we have a really special bond. It has been one of the most challenging and significant experiences in my life being a big brother to someone with special needs, especially one that is adopted and a different race. There are so many daily challenges that come from dealing with that dynamic, but it’s the time we get together that wipes all those things away. 

 

Just recently he joined the track team at his school. I was so scared for him. I knew that was the wrong thing to feel, but I so badly wanted it to go well for him. I definitely didn’t want him to fail. In his mind he was fast and I wanted him to continue to have something he could feel proud of. Being a kid is challenging these days and I didn’t want him to go out for track and find out that he just wasn’t as fast as he thought he was and have that make him feel insignificant. I wanted him to have the experiences I just didn’t want him to fail. My inner parent was clearly raging. I went to his first track meet last week, and he won two races! I was literally in tears as he ran by. I was screaming his name so loud, I was so proud. He taught me something that day – he taught me that he is strong and he can do amazing things even when everyone doubts him. That’s the best part about having a relationship with my brother, he is often teaching me more than I am teaching him.

 

Q: What is your current involvement in the world of people and children with disabilities or special needs?

 

A: For me it’s everyday trying to be a better brother. My goal in any charity or volunteer work is to change just one life, if one person is better off than when you started than you did exactly what you were supposed to do. So when it comes to the disabled community I feel like there is no better commitment I can make than to just be a good big brother who is supportive, present, available, and loving. His success is only proving that anyone with any challenges can do amazing things.

 

Q:   What have you learned from being involved in the world of special needs?

 

A: I have learned that you can never judge someone. It’s a pretty simple concept, but it isn’t something that actually happens until your stereotypes and expectations are shattered over and over again. And children in the special needs world will continuously alter your perception and expectations with the amazing things they can do. I’ve heard over and over again from teachers, evaluators, and doctors, “Your brother can’t… Your brother won’t be able to…” and he always seems to find a way. He’s taught me that anything is possible. And that even if you have special needs you are special and have amazing talents that the world deserves to see.

 

Q: Tell us about a time when you saw someone overcome a significant challenge in spite of a disability, OR a time YOU overcame a challenge if you’re living with a disability!

 

A: There are countless times my brother has overcome challenges, but the ones that matter the most to me are the little things like, being able to read, write, make his bed, get dressed on his own, brush his own teeth. All the things that people said he might always need assistance with; those are the things that inspire me. I’ll see him do something on his own and be like, “Dude? You know how to do laundry?” and he’ll look at me all confused and be like, “Ya Josh, obviously!” Haha?! Obviously? I know fifty-year-old men who don’t know how to do their own laundry. 

 

Q:   Take a deep breath and read these stats:

                                          i.         90% of children with a disability in South Africa will never go to school

                                        ii.         97% of children with a disability in South Africa will never graduate

                                       iii.         0.5% of people with a disability in South Africa will never have a job, leaving them to either beg or join a gang in order to survive.

                                      iv.         Due to a tribal belief referred to as “cleansing,” girls with disabilities in Africa have a 75% higher rate of being raped because it’s believed having sex with them will rid their predator of AIDS.

                                        v.         There is an 80% mortality rate of children with disabilities before the age of 5 due to high abandonment rates

How do these facts provided by the UN, World Health Bank and UNICEF make you feel? 

 

A: Sad and sick, the idea of “cleansing” made my stomach turn. It also makes me feel lucky that my brother has been provided the services he has. Although the services in the United States always could use work, some of the programs he has been blessed to be involved in are astounding and have been really impactful. It is really sad to know so many talented and beautiful people are being treated with such disrespect around the globe. 

Q: Why do you think that Uphold Global is a good solution to ending these issues?

A: Uphold brings awareness to issues that most people in the developed world don’t have an understanding of. Their focus on education and their follow-up with the schools they decide to help is something that creates sustainable change. It is a tall task to break a culture and it takes the success of a few special needs children to show the world that their lives are worth fighting for. But these kids can’t succeed on their own, especially not in that environment. That is why Uphold Global is necessary.  

 

Q: Why do you think storytelling and awareness is such an important aspect of providing hope for these children?

 

A: I think changing the narrative around these children is important to getting them the help they deserve and need. Over the past 15 years organizations have shown helpless, starving, or disabled kids on TV with sad music asking for donations; donations that had no name and no plan. We are in a generation that values empowerment, and refuses to give handouts without a sustainable solution. So positive stories of these children taking aid and using it to better themselves is going to only encourage more aid. It is also going to break the stereotypes of special needs and encourage more acceptance.  

Uphold Global takes on Valentine's Day

"What if everyone got a Valentine this year? What if no one in Santa Rosa felt unloved this Valentine's Day? We're honored to be a small part of that."

I know what you're thinking -- "What? Santa Rosa? I thought you were in Cape Town?!"  No, friend, your geography knowledge isn't off. I'm still in the Mother City with my good friends Table Mountain and Fran Thring.  These words were on an invitation I received from my friend Holly who lives in a suburb of San Francisco who organized a city-wide love fest.  I too was confused when she invited me into this movement of unconventional love that was based so far from where I am, until I scrolled down to the bottom and saw that she extended the invite to people all over the world to love their local homies and cronies.  

That's a beautiful thought -- what if NOBODY felt unloved -- so we grabbed some red, pink and white paper, glue sticks, and got to work. We armed ourselves with chocolate kisses and real kisses and set out to love every child with special needs in our path. This random love project aligns so perfectly with the heart and mission of Uphold Global.  

As we left Guguletu on a high, patting ourselves on a successful deed well done as we all tend to do after a random act of kindness, we drove by a child sitting on the side of the road.  From a distance he looked to be about 12-14, and should have been in school. Oftentimes there are children who have dropped out of school at a very young age for a variety of reasons...drug abuse, joining gangs, needing to work to support their families.  I was about to open my big mouth and ridicule this young man's decisions...probably something along the lines of "Doesn't he know if he just finished school he'd be able to accomplish so much more in life?!" until we finally got close enough that I could see him face to face.  My little heart sank so fast that it skipped my stomach and went straight into my large intestine as I saw his sweetly slanted eyes and recognized that this darling boy has Downs Syndrome.  

No parents around, his green pants tattered with holes with his little shoeless feet showcasing his toes flexed towards the sun. He was leaning his head against one of the railings on the side of the highway he was sitting on, and right then and there I was reminded that we can do all of the fun little candy drops and baby hugs in the world -- but to never lose sight of the fact that there are hundreds of millions of children like this who aren't in organizations yet.

I'm sure Fran is mentally preparing herself for my inevitable hot mess, vulnerable K cry tonight while I wail into a box of tissues and bowl of popcorn about how unfair it is that this little boy doesn't have the opportunities and love that he deserves.  While that is 100% true I keep use moments like this to remind myself why Uphold is needed. The compassionate, motherly side of me wants to scoop him up and put him in my car and keep him forever, but the practical side of me knows that supporting organizations here is a much more sound, practical and efficient way of helping him and all of the others like him.  We didn't start just to create moving media pieces and host cool fundraisers.  Uphold isn't a grand idea to boost my or my co-laborers moral egos so that we can drive by impoverished areas and not feel guilty about having middle class lives.  Rather it's a movement of what REAL love looks like so that not just on Valentine's Day, but EVERY day, no child will feel unloved.  

One of the things I love so much about my precious little organization is that the solution we're fighting for and aiming towards is 100% possible.  We're not trying to cure cancer or end an international war.  

We're simply figuring out the best ways to strategically and practically love the people groups that are the most disadvantaged and most overlooked in the world.

We're grabbing our metaphorical pompoms and bullhorns (which look a lot like funding and awareness) and and forming pyramids of advocates for organizations who are already making great strides to deliver justice, hope and love for these treasured little bubs and saying "YES! AMEN! YOU GO GIRL!" 

We're not going into this blindly -- we know that hope and justice for children with special needs who are usually victims of abuse, neglect, abandonment, and rape IS a reality. It's just a matter of connecting the right organizations with the right types of resource and partnership.  

We're simply the much needed middle man to make sure that organizations have a foot in the states with incredible people like you who have the means to help them help the kiddos. We just tell the stories, and get to kiss as many itty bitty drool covered cheeks as we can in the process. 

Check out the video on Facebook that shows about our little lunch break random Valentine's chocolate drop for these kiddos and share this story with someone who you think needs to hear about what we're doing.  
We've heard back from a lot of churches, schools, and universities in this last week who are keen for Uphold to come to their organizations and talk about how they can be a part of the movement that we're creating -- but we're looking for more!  The more people who know about the injustice and darkness these children are trapped in, the more people can be a light for them and fight for their rights.

To donate towards our projects so that we're able to provide the love these babes deserve, You can sponsor our projects through our fiscal sponsor, World Outreach Ministries, by making an online donation via www.WorldOutreach.org/donations and select Uphold Global from the list, or simply mail a check to World Outreach Ministries, PO Box B, Marietta, GA 30061 and designate for #182.

Birthing a Movement: Letter from the Founder

I was born in Minneapolis, MN with a loving family and every opportunity known to man.  My parents loved me, my community accepted me, and I excelled in every area of life.  I was also born with a radial clubbed hand, which causes my left arm to be slightly shorter than my right and me to be missing two fingers on my left hand.

I lived in South Africa from 2011-2013 and have had the privilege to work with two hundred of the sweetest children with disabilities you will ever meet at a special school in Cape Town.  When I first realized what life is like for children with disabilities in South Africa I was appalled.

In large parts of Africa, tribal religions are practiced in which disability is seen as a curse or as if the child is possessed. This causes an entire family to be ostracized from the community, and unfortunately happens globally, not just in Africa. As a result these children are often thrown away as infants and if their disability is discovered later in life, they are physically chained or restrained to the back of their homes.  These children are abused, neglected, malnourished, uneducated and unloved.  They have no one to stand up for their rights or provide for their needs. Acknowledging the fact that the only thing that separates my fate from the fate of these children is the fact that I was blessed to be born in a first world country is what has inspired me to start Uphold.

The last thing that under-developed countries need is another American group to build a facility with no community buy-in or governmental assistance and have it shut down in a matter of years.  I’ve seen firsthand the horrible situations that children with disabilities in under-developed countries face, and how once one of their needs is met, it doesn’t change much due to the mound of other needs that are required.  Short term projects and missions trips can help temporarily or to sustain existing projects, but a long-term, holistic approach is what will really put an end to the injustices these children face.

There are thousands of non-profit organizations in under-developed countries that work with children, but they are each going in their own direction and fighting all of their battles on their own.  By creating a synergy with organizations in the same geographical regions we can help them to work together to overcome various struggles and increase their effectiveness.  We make this possible through international awareness campaigns, facilitating Uphold  disability networks in specific geographic regions and funding the synergy of those networks to expand outreach to more children with disabilities.

Uphold seeks to help people help organizations to help children with disabilities.  We seek to fight for justice, with the backing force of the fight being rooted in love for these children that we have yet to even meet.

We uphold children with disabilities.  We uphold organizations.  We uphold justice.

Justice League

Injustice:  Lack of fairness or justice; An unjust act or occurrence; failure of government to protect or defend what they need to.

While living in South Africa the organization I was working with gave me the assignment of looking into “what are the options for the children at the school after they finish grade 9?” At the moment the school only goes to grade nine, and other schools don’t want to accept our kids due to the fact that they’re disabled and they have such horrible stigmas about them, or that the school’s standard of education isn’t as high as they would like for a mainstream school.

I learned that over 90% of disabled children in South Africa will never go to school.  Of the 10% that are able to go to some kind of school, 71% will never graduate grade 12 due to a lack of capacity at the LSEN schools or lack of acceptance of main stream schools.  This leaves us with 2% of disabled children in South Africa finishing high school.  A mere 0.5% will have a job at some point in their life…which leaves us with 99.5% unemployment rate of disabled individuals, leaving them to lives of either begging or crime to survive.  This is just disgusting.  I had an interesting revelation spoken so clearly to me that challenged my heart with a simple, yet profound question:

“What about the ones that aren’t in Cape Town?”

What about them?  Well, the saddest thing is that while the kids in Cape Town DO need so much more help, they’re actually the lucky ones.  In tribal communities there are still many tribal religions practiced which view disabled children as cursed, and the easiest solution to avoid shame and the entire family being ostracized is to either throw the child away in a public dump as an infant, or physically restrain and chain them to the back of their homes.  These children are neglected, starved and abused.  They have over 75% chance of being raped due to the fact that there’s a common folk belief that raping a virgin will rid one of their HIV/AIDS positive status, and they have NO chance of running away.

So, what about them?  What do we do?  What can we do?  Well, to be completely transparent with you I had no idea initially.  I didn’t know what I was doing.  Nope, no clue.  Like any modern, 21st century woman I turned to the source of all knowledge to try to gain some insight on how to tackle this huge, seemingly hopeless issue: google.  Whilst trying various combinations of words like “justice, organization, team, help, Africa, international, hope etc”  a funny result came up into my browser:  “The Justice League” by  DC Comics.  Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern.   Yes, that “Justice League”.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I realized THAT is what these children need.  They need the Justice League and I dare to believe that they can have it.  We can be their Justice League.  Similar to the comic series, the need and injustice that these children face is far too great for one person to handle on their own.  I simply cannot do it.  I need a team of fellow superheroes to help me.  The different members of the Justice League all had different strengths and weaknesses, but when they worked together they always saved the day—even when situations looked like the grimmest they could possibly be.

This should make you sick.  In case it isn’t real for you yet, think about this:  If I had been born on a different continent, this would be MY reality.  Yes, your favorite quirky, rapping, nugget-loving, African wanna be.  This would be how I would be treated simply because the birth defect that I was born with is more visible than a simple mole.  This would be my reality.  I think the worst thing that I noticed when researching this all was that the difference between the 2001 and 2011 census reports from the UN have next to no change in the statistics surrounding the realities that these children face. The possibility of hope for these kids is still non-existent.  I like to believe that this wouldn’t be the case if people knew–I just think that no one was aware.  I haven’t reminded you of this to make you sad or upset, but rather to make you aware.   The thing about awareness is that once you are aware, you can never be unaware again.  You cannot ignore this and pretend you didn’t know.  By spreading awareness we begin lift the oppressive weight of injustice that has held these children captive to the darkness of injustice for thousands of years. As we collectively lift that weight it no longer becomes a weight, but a responsibility that we share as humans to help others that takes shape as the hugest adventure we could embark on.

This isn’t an inspirational writing, my friend.  I’m serious about this.  If we don’t who will?  Let’s be their justice league. Your childhood dream just came true: you get to be a superhero.

Thando

Thando: He is the funniest thing you’ll ever see.  He has the mannerisms of a grumpy old man coupled with the energy of a child on a sugar high and a heart of pure gold.  He is affectionate and intelligent and loves to learn.  Any treat he receives from someone he first splits in half and gives to his older sister, no matter how small that half may be.  The only other child with a disability in the area that he lives in that the community knows about is severely mentally disabled and no one in the community will interact with him whatsoever.  Except Thando.  He will go there and find the child and be kind to him and let him know that he does have at least one friend.

Thando has some sort of super-natural, inexplicable type of hope.  His reality is grim.  Statistics say that children like him have a 2.7% chance of finishing high school and a 0.5% chance of getting a simple job like bagging groceries or pumping gasoline.  Stories tell us that children like him have futures that consist of either begging or becoming a drug mule for gangs within the townships of Cape Town. 

Yet for now, he is pure sunshine and has a way of getting his little hands wrapped around the hearts of our entire Uphold team.

I was visiting with a woman named Bongiwe that has a child that was born with a cleft palette and to hear her story was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.  Bongiwe had a 6 year old little girl when she became pregnant with her other child and was living with their father.  When she found out that her fetus was going to be born with a disability she was told to have an abortion because the child would never amount to anything and would only cause her trouble.

She didn’t, because she felt convicted and knew that God had given her this child.  The father told her that seeing as there was no history of disability on his side of the family it was her fault, so he left leaving both children fatherless.  When she had her baby, she wasn’t explained what it meant to have a cleft palette.

She wasn’t told what caused it, what doesn’t cause it, and how to deal with it.  She told me when she first saw her baby she was terrified because he had a hole in his face and she didn’t know what she had done wrong.  South Africa’s public health system does offer free health care to children with disabilities up until the age of 18, so at one year of age the baby had its first surgery to try to close the palette.  The surgery wasn’t done properly and they didn’t give her any antibiotics to help fight infection after the surgery.  The incision wounds became infected and rotten, nearly killing the baby.  The baby was put back into hospital as it was almost dying and was given a drip of antibiotics, but because the IV was put in incorrectly the child will be significantly smaller on the right side of its body for the remainder of its life.

Bongiwe told me that when her baby was growing up she wasn’t ashamed and wouldn’t hide the disability from people, and people who were walking on the street towards them would get scared and turn the other way.  She told me there was a period when her community was so horrible that she would have to lock her two children inside the house and let them play inside—not because she didn’t love her special child, but because people were so horrible to him that it wasn’t safe for him to be in the community and it was the only way she could protect his life.

Four years after the first surgery they tried the surgery again, and the same thing happened.  Granted, this surgery wasn’t as bad as the other ones so the child was is now able to make some noises and communicate, but when tries to speak isn’t understood (unless you know what words he’s trying to say).

As this child sat on my friend Jordan’s lap and pointed out different numbers and colors in a book that he knew I sat with Bongiwe and I had an overwhelming sense that I just had to tell her how proud I was of her.  That I was proud of her for not having an abortion, for raising two children on her own, for continuing to love her child despite the disability.  She had tears in her eyes and got very, very quiet.  I realized that she had never been told that before.

For the last 6 years she was told that she was crazy, blamed for the disability, told to disown him.  Her mate abandoned her and his children.  She had to quit studying when the surgery went wrong so that she could be with her sick baby.  And she’d never been encouraged once.

I didn’t sleep much that night.  Not necessarily because of this story, because I’ve read tons just like it in my research over the last year.  My conversation with Bongiwe made this struggle very real for me…because Bongiwe is my Thando’s mother.

When I say that I want to help these children, I don’t mean it to be a new pastime. I don’t mean it like I’m signing up to be on the volunteer teams at their school once a week for a year.  I mean it, because their lives and livelihoods depend on it. I mean it like you would mean it if this were the future of your children, nieces, or nephews.  No longer are these statistics about some child somewhere in Africa that I’ll never meet and can ignore and pretend doesn’t exist—I know Thando and I love him and he represents all of the other children. It’s a bit daunting for my heart to think that I now have 520 million children to love, but I do. They’re real now.  These children now have a name, and a face, and funny personalities and quirky characteristics because Thando personifies them.

As daunting as this thought is, this revelation of love gives me drive and passion to make Uphold not just another non-profit organization.   Love is the strongest, most powerful force on the Earth and that’s necessary when you consider the magnitude of what we’re trying to do.  We’re not trying to build a school or clinic and help a few kids in Africa. When you consider the fact that I just told you about 1/520,000,000 children that need help, it’s not an option to be anything other than an ever-growing, always-expanding movement.  We’re creating a movement, an un-stoppable force against the injustices facing children with disabilities in underdeveloped countries.

Join the movement, spread the love, Uphold justice.

We can’t do it without you.

Children Should Not Be Shot

If you’ve been reading this blog for any significant amount of time, you already know that I lived in South Africa for three years and had the privilege of loving the sweetest 200 children with disabilities you will ever meet.  I loved them so much that I was willing and ready to indefinitely give up life in America indefinitely to do life with them forever, until I realized the most loving thing I could do for them was in fact move back here and fight for their rights. Ultimately, the heartbeat of Uphold boils down to loving children with special needs.

Love like this isn’t a feeling or emotion. It’s a compelling force that drives us to various actions and forms our character. Which is really wonderful as it serves as a useful tool…90% of the time.  Unfortunately the other 10% of the time this passion ends up breaking my heart whenever something happens to one of my precious nuggets.

There are a few circumstances that stick out clearly in my mind that take that force of loving from wanting to spend time with the children that I adore to a righteous anger.  One of the most vivid of those is the story of Mzoli.

To be completely honest, “righteously angry” doesn’t quite cut it when I refer to the gut wrenching feeling I experienced, because like any mom who is dealing with the fact that one of her children has been shot 3 times there are no words to describe how I felt.

Someone in Mzoli’s family was involved in some protests, and due to the heavy gang culture in his environment his home was targeted for a shoot out.  Luckily, no one was killed, however due to the fact that Mzoli is paralyzed he couldn’t run away like the rest of his family.  He was left completely vulnerable and the fact that he was only shot and not killed is a pure miracle.

Mzoli was an innocent bystander who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and as a result of his physical ability became victim to a gang rebellion that he had nothing to do with. All children in South Africa have to deal with the potential of this happening in their homes due to the current state of the country’s current crime rate, but the thing that breaks my heart is that most of these kids have a chance to run away.

Shoot-outs aren’t the only thing that these children have to worry about.  Within gang culture, the way to gain rank or status is through committing horrendous acts against people in the community. One of the biggest issues that the school regularly faced was that the children would be waiting for the bus and would become victims of theft or would be raped because they’re seen as the easiest targets.  Unlike children that don’t have disabilities, children with disabilities can’t run away and are seen as the easiest targets.  As if it weren’t bad enough that the tribal religions preach that these children are “cursed”, the local witchdoctors will tell HIV/AIDS positive people that one way to cleanse themselves of the disease is through sexual intercourse with a person with a disability.  All of this compiles leaving these children with a 75% chance they’ll be raped.

This is sick.  Children shouldn’t be shot.  They shouldn’t be robbed.  They shouldn’t be raped.  Obviously I want these children to be able to go to school, finish school, maintain a job and be successful and contributing members of society—but first and foremost I want them to be safe and I want them to be loved.  I want their basic needs addressed and protected.

Stories like this are the reasons that Uphold exists: to educate people like you so that you can resource and empower people in their communities to stand up for these children and fight for their rights.