Today I met with adminstrators from Riek’s new school and old school. Riek is 12 years old and he has worked so hard to get into this new school. That is all he has talked about lately.
Last weekend when we were taking him back to his North Portland home after youth group Fusion with my twins at Rolling Hills Sunday night, he kept talking about this meeting with his new school.
“My dad’s coming home to take me to this meeting,” he announced. “I have been really good and know I will do well in this new school. It is close to my house and I can walk.”
“But what about my meeting Monday morning?” he wondered. We called his dad and he was not sure when he would be able to come home.
“Can your mom take you to the meeting?” I asked.
Riek’s mom does not understand very much English. She barely speaks the language yet alone understands it. She tries so hard. Riek’s family members are refugees from Sudan. They escaped persecution for being Christians and are trying to establish a life here. It is not easy. The mom, with her very broken English, has gotten two jobs over the 3 years we have known them, but she was laid off of both of them. The dad has not worked since we have known them. He says he is taking classes and trying. He has been back to Africa several times. It is hard to feed and clothe a family of of 9 on a regular income yet alone one that requires government assistance. But they work so hard at it. They are such a lovely family. We feel so blessed to be connected with them.
When I called the school to see about bringing the mom in to the meeting for Riek, they asked who I am.
“I am an advocate for them.”
No, I am not with the county or the state or with social services. I am just an advocate. I care about them. They are our friends and we have known them for three years and we connected due to our faith in the Lord Jesus and we wanted to be able to assist them, to help get them established, to help them physically and emotionally and spiritually and to support them. They have come over for Easter and Christmas and we have gone to the beach together and hiking. My kids are friends with their kids. We care. We want to help give them a break. To get them working and supporting themselves, to help the children do well in school and to get connected in church. To keep their faith in God. To grow in that relationship.
The school said it was okay if I brought the mom in, and the father had also called the school to say that would be fine. The mom told them I have been there to help them for three years and that I can be officially involved. She signed for me to be an advocate.
At the meeting today, I met another advocate for Riek, Phil Gibbs, who helped Riek at his old school. When I mentioned to Phil the church we go to (Rolling Hills), that has also helped with Riek’s family, various members and groups within the church have been supportive, the church that we have brought Riek’s family to, Phil Gibbs said he has visited our church and that he attends another Christian church. It was so neat to connect on a faith level. Phil Gibbs cares about Riek’s family. He said he is glad I am an advocate for Riek. And then Phil Gibbs also said something that stood out to me. He said:
“Riek’s an advocate for himself.”
I live in the community of West Linn where the parents are so involved in their children’s lives and where they take care of so much for their children and where the parents are the advocates, but that is not reality everywhere and for some people survival is the only reality, and Riek is learning the hard way to be an advocate for himself and for that I commend him. It is not easy. We all eventually learn to be advocates for ourselves and some just have to learn it much earlier rather than later.
And it is not a bad lesson to learn in general. In the end, we have to learn to be advocates for ourselves, to stick up for ourselves, to follow our dreams, to make those dreams a reality. And Riek’s dream right now is to get into this school.
I shared with Phil Gibbs and the others at the school meeting about Riek’s family situation, and we talked about what an amazing family they are and how hard it is with 7 children, but that they are trying so hard to do well in school. But when life at difficult and money is tight or non-existent and the car is not working and there is no money to fix it, there is of course added stress on children, it is about survival and no frills. It is hard enough being a child and a student in school yet alone having to play house for real.
I am praying that they do not lose heart. I am praying that we can get a larger connection of a community going for them here in the Portland area. I am praying for the kids, to never ever ever give up. Or lose heart.
And to learn how to be an advocate for themselves. As Riek did.
. . . And his dream came true. He starts in his new school tomorrow.