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.