Have you also known these difficult years of growing up? They are the years in which we perhaps perceived our parents and teachers as a problem, sought distance from them – in order to develop our own identity. Maybe we received a disciplinary reprimand from school during these “lout years”. I know this. During my own school years, I often sought the role of the rebel. I liked being a lout, had to take reprimands for lack of discipline, even incitement to disobedience. I was almost expelled from my school once. That could have soured my whole school year back then.
And today? Today I recognise how all these phases of life are also repeated in our wonderful protégés. I visited them last week. It was wonderful! Their radiance, their progress. To see how all of a sudden maturity, self-confidence and social competence emerge. Suddenly an eye for the whole. How young people begin to take on responsibility without being asked. Standing on their own two feet, giving thanks and feeling the urge to make the world a better place. These are the golden moments when, as a guardian, one is grateful for the power of love. Because only it creates a foundation, a bond that survives even difficult times.
Because: of course we know this well. The time of “difficult” protégés. Disciplinary problems that make the sparks fly. We have that too. But the point seems to me to be this: as guardians, we cannot, should not and must not run away from our children, especially in the “difficult years”. It is precisely then that they need us. They need patience and love that says “I believe in you”. Even if they may not want to admit it. In the end, they all grow up and become sensible. Even if it sometimes seems otherwise.
This experience moved me last week in Uganda. There I met some of our formerly “difficult” protégés. They were wonderful! All of them. Together we grilled some bread dough, potatoes and sausages on an open fire and talked. Talked about God and the world. About their experience of growing up. About what is important to them. And that’s when the scales fell from my eyes. “Troubled children” became confident, life-skilled leaders. At that moment I knew it was worth it. Every day and every good word.
Bob, for example, who used to always skip school, is now well on his way to becoming a great tourist guide.
Ronald has made the leap to becoming an artist in his own right. He is perhaps our most successful protégé – his outstanding graphic designs have now been published internationally and picked up by a successful African fashion brand.
Steven, our loner, produces bricks and vanilla, which he loves to give away to please others.
And one last observation in this letter. In our neighbourhood, they have dramatically worsened the living conditions of many families. There are several reasons for this. The traces of the two-year lockdowns are still deep. Many fishing families have lost their livelihoods. New refugees are constantly arriving from Sudan. Health care is precarious and vicious circles of poverty are increasing. I will write about this another time.
In the meantime, since the beginning of the year, we have created a haven of education, safety and protection for over a hundred small and older children. This is also part of our work. The moments of happiness of growing up and the new beginning where one is still far away from it.
I greet you very warmly, also on behalf of our protégés.