This week I met the mother of one of my boys for the first time. I travelled to the factory where she works, just next to the South African border, to meet her on her lunch break. It was a beautiful moment for me. She greeted me with the hugest smile, and recounted to me the day her son came home from the streets to tell her he was returning to school. “M’e Belinda expects me to”, were his exact words. With a smile she adds, “He loves you so much.”
If I had to identify the most important success factor in the work we do, I would say relationship. And as the foundation of relationship, love.
Her 14 year old son was one of the first children I met on the streets when I moved to Lesotho in 2012. Being so small, I’d singled him out to understand why he was on the streets begging, rather than in school. We built a strong friendship that year, and I began encouraging him to go back to school. To be honest, I didn’t really expect he would. But by the end of 2012, I no longer saw him on the streets as I walked home from work. Several months went by, and still he didn’t appear. Curious, a good friend and I followed up with him in his village, and discovered he’d enrolled himself back in school. Still unconvinced that this would continue, I made a deal with him that if he was serious and attended school regularly, I’d help him to get a uniform. One year passed, and I called his teacher regularly to check on his progress, occasionally dropping by school to say hi. In December 2013 he passed Standard 5, and in February 2014 he proudly started school with a brand new uniform.
This story is not unique. Love heals and love motivates. I have been building relationships with children on the streets for two years now. Mabatho, our social worker, started well before me.
Because of relationship, our children have begun to tell us the truth about what happens at home.
Because they know I love them, they freely knock on my door at night when something bad has happened on the street.
Many have returned to school for no other reason than they know it is important to me, and they want to make me proud.
And because we have relationships with every child on the street, if a new child arrives we will know about it. And we can move quickly to return them to a family before they settle in.
Love changes people. Love is the force behind everything we do.