by Sarah Foster, 6-Month Africa Immersion team member
Sarah's team is only a few weeks away from finishing their 6-month journey from New York City to three countries in southern Africa, including Namibia, their current stop.
Today, I finally figured out why he limps.
'He' is Eric (name changed). Eric is my very favorite grade 7 learner.
I was actually nervous the first time I saw Eric in class. He is larger than the rest of the students and appeared to be slightly more mature. I was convinced that he would give me the most problems, especially when he stood up and was almost a head taller than me. I guessed he was going to be the ringleader of the rebels.
It took me by surprise when he walked out of class with an odd hitch in his hip and a slight dragging of his left foot.
It took me even more by surprise when he turned out the be the most well behaved child in any of my classes. He is the most helpful and does all he can to keep the other children in line. Unfortunately, they are not intimidated by his size and he is often bullied for trying to do the right thing. But, he doesn't let that get to him. He constantly says that he hates how the other children act. He often says, "Miss Sarah, they just don't understand."
I thought that maybe he was frustrated by my English and was telling me that the other students didn't understand what I was saying when I asked them to be quiet. Another teacher finally told me his story. Eric has only been in school for three years.
Eric spent the first thirteen years of his life locked in a tiny room. That is why he limps—his body could not develop properly with such limited space to move. I won't claim to know all of the details, but according to one of the teachers, his father left shortly after he was born and his mother then locked him in a room. Thirteen years later, a neighbor noticed that his mother was keeping a child in the house and called the police. Eric moved in with his father.
Eric underwent testing to determine which grade he should be placed in, and with some help was able to start in grade 5. He passed in his first try and completed grade 6 as well. Eric is now working his way through grade 7, his final year of primary school. He will hopefully be attending high school next year. Eric turned 17 this past week.
Eric knows that his education is an amazing privilege that he needs to take advantage of. While other children went to grades 1-4, Eric sat in a locked room. When his age-mates graduated primary school, Eric was being introduced to the world outside of his room for the very first time.
Eric sees every day as a gift. He appreciates his teachers because they were the first adults in his life to show him care. In return, Eric helps them all he can. Eric is the first to jump up and move desks or count chairs when a teacher asks, even if it is physically harder for him than it would be for the typical child. Eric listens to every word his teachers have to say. He doesn't want to miss a thing and will never interrupt, but is eager to ask questions. He is always kind to other students. He does his best to make friends even when he is made fun of. Eric knows that he missed a lot in his thirteen years of captivity, but he channels this knowledge into making the very best of every minute of freedom he is given.
I think that we would all live differently if we were able to see every day like Eric does. If I woke up every morning simply thankful I was going to be allowed to leave my room, I would look at everything differently. If I knew what it was like to be locked up while other children got to go to school, I would be running into class every day with a massive smile, thankful for the opportunity to learn. If I had only ever met the one person who was keeping me hidden from the world, I would want to show as much love as I could to everyone I met. If I had spent 13 years indoors, I don't know if I could ever complain about the weather when I finally got to go outside.
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