Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Joe's Smile

This is my friend Joe.

He's 12 years old.

He has the most incredible smile, and his laughter is infectious.

When I last saw Joe, he was in tears, and I was giving him the best pep talk I could muster. You see, they were removing Joe from the boarding school he had been attending to send him back to his family in the interior. He had only been at the boarding school for one year, and prior to that, he had been living in one of the worst orphanages in Liberia. He loved his school, and loved his friends even more. I remember trying to reassure him as much as possible--I kept telling him that I knew he was strong and that everything would be ok--even though I feared the situation he was going back to, and I thought I might not ever see him again. It broke my heart. And Joe went back to the bush.

One year later.

After some conversations, phone calls and alittle bit of money, Joe's family agreed to let him return to the boarding school.

I was reunited with Joe today. I couldn't wait to see him and his incredible smile!
We sat in the palava hut for at least 15 minutes, just the two of us talking. He told me about how his mother and father were old now (54 and 58), and that his siblings were 'big-big' so he was left to help out his parents. He talked about how he worked on the farm everyday and how his hands were 'getting too rough.' Joe spent a year in the bush, day in and day out, doing back-breaking work in the hot sun. And he wasn't in school. And he wasn't in school when he was living in the orphanage either.

Joe left the boarding school having finished 1st grade, and today he's in 3rd grade. He's so smart that even though he missed his 2nd grade year, he totally skipped the 2nd grade upon his return! He is incredibly smart and loves learning! He asked me questions and we talked about how he's one of the older children now so that means he has more responsibilities. We talked about how 'with position comes responsibility' and that the smaller children need to look up to a good man and not a bad man. He laughed and smiled. And sat up alittle taller.

Joe is what it's all about! Hope. Lost and found. Laughter. Joy.
Joe with his friends, George and Emmanuel.
When I first met Joe, he was starving, sick and his skin was covered in fungus. But he never lost his smile, or that fire in his eyes. I told him today that I knew he was strong from the beginning, and that his smile always makes me smile.

He smiled. And I smiled.

We sat on the ledge and held hands. He's 12, but not so cool that he won't hold my hand. I'm sure that will go, and then he probably won't want to be caught dead hanging out with me. But for now, for today, I sat and enjoyed every second.


And for comparison sake, look how far Joe, Emmanuel and George have come:

No comments: