His name is Mukanga.
He's nine years old, almost exactly three months older than my second-born child.
When we first sponsored Mukanga through Compassion they sent us a remarkably thorough packet of information about him. He lives with his grandmother in the northeastern part of Uganda. He is responsible for gathering the firewood and carrying water for the two of them. He loves to play marbles, and he loves to draw. He goes to school, where he is an average student, and he goes to church regularly.
Thanks to subsequent communication with him, we know a little more. Mukanga's aunt also lives with them, and he loves to play soccer. His favorite subject is math, and he longs to come to America someday ("because of the adventure," he says).
As interesting as these facts are, it's his photograph that stays in my head. We have it stuck to our fridge, along with all the photos of our own kids--it fights for space with the grocery list and spelling words. He looks very healthy and robust--in the picture he stands with fine posture, his stained shirt buttoned neatly to the top. His left hand appears to be nervously (bashfully?) fidgeting with them hem of his shirt. He's barefoot.
I love knowing about this boy--I've turned the details over and over in my head, trying to paint a mental picture of his life. So have my kids.
"What does his school look like?"
"Does he have enough to eat?"
"Do you think his parents died? Is that why he lives with his grandmother?"
I wish I knew. I read the facts about Mukanga and my mind races, hoping and praying life is healthy and safe for him, and profoundly thankful our family has had a chance to get involved with him. Though I know we may be impacting his life through our sponsorship, he's profoundly impacting our lives as well. Not a day goes by that at least one person in our family mentions his name when we need a little perspective about how easy our life is.
Amazingly, I'm going to get to meet Mukanga. Face-to-face! Of all the aspects of my upcoming trip, this is the one that brings tears to my eyes the quickest. The kids have helped us pack a backpack full of gifts for him: there's some clothing, many art supplies, a few toys, a soccer ball, even a crank-up flashlight. Mostly, I just want to look directly into the eyes that have peering at me from the photo on the fridge. I want to know he's okay. I want to show him pictures of my kids. I want to hear the laugh behind the smile.
Have you ever thought of sponsoring a child? You should. It's only $32 a month (it costs more than that for my family of six to go to McDonald's), and it builds a priceless relationship with a child who desperately needs you. Compassion squeezes every bit of value out of that $32 and turns into an education, food and medical care.
The stories of the heartache in Africa come pouring out constantly--I'll be telling you a few myself in the coming weeks. But you have a chance to make a difference in the life of one child.
It's not every day you get to change the world.