How orphan empowerment applies to me

“We don’t even take their picture before they sign a consent form. Every child knows their rights.”

– Reegan Kaberia Mungi

I had the pleasure of hearing the Pan Africa Coordinator of ZOE speak at our church last week. In his gorgeous, melodic cadence, he explained how orphans in ZOE working groups are educated, empowered and liberated, never coerced or exploited. They make their own choices and always know their rights.

It’s not like I’ve never heard it before. Jess Wilson reminds us all the time; she never posts pictures of her daughter, “Brooke,” without permission. She fiercely guards Brooke’s privacy on puberty matters, despite being asked regularly about how she copes with those sticky preteen/teen issues. Everything Jess writes passes through her filter: Would I have wanted this written about me?

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Because of Jess, I’ve become more protective of Henry. I think more about what photos I post and stories I share. I’ve deleted old posts I wish I hadn’t published. (I’m sure I’ve missed some.) Yet, Reegan’s words pierced my heart with new clarity.

These orphans could easily be mistreated, and I don’t mean in an intentionally abusive way. The ZOE partners could easily take on a superior attitude. We might assume they are grateful just to have food, regardless of how it is provided. We might assume we know what’s best in their community. Often, this is exactly what well-meaning relief organizations do.  We assume our 1st world customs, our business strategies, our ways are always the best, and we force the impoverished to do X, Y, and Z, and ten years later we come back to see the same folks in poverty once again.

ZOE is different. And it occurred to me that I could learn a thing or two from them on how to conduct my own “business” of parenting and writing:

  1. Henry has rights. He has the right to say, “No, Mom. Don’t put that on the internet,” even at 6 years old. Further, I need to ask.
  2. Henry deserves dignity. Anything I wouldn’t post about me, I shouldn’t post about him.
  3. My ways are not always best. What seems best to me as his parent is, in fact, best a lot of the time. (Don’t touch the hot stove. Don’t cross the street when an 18-wheeler is coming at you. Brush your teeth.) Other times, I don’t know what’s best, and because I don’t…
  4. I need to learn the local customs. In this case, “local” is Henry and other autistic people. What works for them? What doesn’t?
  5. I need to listen. Maybe this one goes without saying, but since listen is my word for 2016, I’ll write it here again. I need to listen to every way Henry communicates to me and let that communication affect me before I think or speak.

What I know for sure is that moms and dads do the very best we can with what we know. Keith and I have certainly done all we know to do and then some. But when our eyes are opened to new perspectives, therapies, interventions, or ideas, we owe it to Henry to at least listen to those new ways. Sometimes they’re worthless, sure; sometimes they’re not. This time it’s not. Reegan is right. All children have rights. Impoverished or wealthy, healthy or sick, disabled or not. All children have rights. Period.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 10-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

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