Everything is so raw in Africa.  It is easier to see our humanity.  What matters most speaks more clearly to me.  Then, I learn.

Nathaniel D. Nathaniel D.

Meet a Child

When I met Nathaniel, I was simply interviewing students at our Niteo Africa #2 Literacy Centre at Buunga Hill Primary School.  We invited students from every grade to choose their favourite book from the centre and come read with us.

Each meeting began with a simple interview:

What’s your name:

Nathaniel D.

How old are you:

9 years old

What grade are you in:

Grade 4

I knew he wasn’t from Uganda.  Where are you from?

South Sudan

When he answered, I felt a shudder in my body, a tingle on my skin.  I knew South Sudan was boiling with fighting, war, violence, and famine.  My mind swirled.

“Nathaniel,” I soften, “How long have you been in Uganda?”

He replies, “Since 2010.”

He came before South Sudan’s Independence when he was five.  I wondered about his family’s safety and continued forward tentatively.

“So who do you live with now?”  With confidence and ease, he replies, “My aunt.”

My heart swells, “Nathaniel when was the last time you saw your mother?”

“In 2010.”

At that moment, my own motherhood came like a wave from deep in my spirit, welling up through my body.  He hasn’t seen his mother in 4 years!  And, without thought or rationale, all I wanted to do is express love to this little guy.  I wanted him to know his mother loves him and he is precious.  I wanted him to know he is safe in Uganda because of the greatest act of love and self-sacrifice a mother could have.

Simply, I reassured, “Your mother loves you.  She loves you very very much.”

Simple Acts

As the wars of the world beat down, playing on my heart like mallets on an African drum…

Nathaniel opened his books and nonchalantly began to read Stan the Hot Dog Man.  He was so proud to read and so confident.  All he wanted was for me to listen to him read.

Tears streamed down my face.

Such simple acts of motherhood.  Such simple acts of childhood.


While one could interpret this story from many vantage points, I know I was incredibly moved.  Nathaniel’s confidence moved me.  His mother’s love moved me.  My own motherhood came whisking in to try to say something meaningful, an attempt to stand in the gap for mothers all around the world who must let go of their children for so many reasons.

Belonging.  Family.  Story-time.  Imagination.  Connections.  Destiny.

Something in the swirl of these simple acts creates an indescribable energy.  My faith is stirred. My emotional response of compassion for this child compared with his brilliant empowerment to “show off” his reading speaks to me.

Yes, he hasn’t seen his mother in 4 years.  For a child that age, it seems like a very long time.  However, it happens much more commonly in the developing world.

What is essential is that he is safe.  He knows love and belonging.  He is getting an education.  And, clearly, he values that!! He wants to read Stan the Hot Dog Man to me!

The simplicity of a learner offering evidence of his learning is profound!

My question is the Learn Forward question of change-makers….

“Every day, identify one thing that happened in the world as a result of the choices you made!”

On the day I met Nathaniel, I invited him and listened to him read Stan the Hot Dog Man.

Literacy and Learning

When children read with adults change happens.

Maybe today is an invitation for you to connect with a child, simply through story-time or a loving squeeze reminding you both that you are safe.  It looks different with big kids.  For exampe, last night I listened to the big kid tell us about his summer reading on Caesar Augustus, and that is what he needed.  He still needed the love-squeeze too!

Maybe today you need to ask our LearnForward change-maker question at your dinner table,

“Every day, identify one good thing that happened in the world as a result of the choices you made!”

Maybe today, all you need to do is put one foot in front of the other.

Whatever it is, remember Nathaniel.  He is doing those things too!

For the sake of the children,