Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Who's the Role Model Now?

"Some of you may not know this, but I have achieved two first for Veronica's Story Foundation during my time here in South Africa. It's the first time the organization has sent over a volunteer without a member escorting them and I am also the first solo male volunteer. I am proud of both "firsts". Oh, but wait - there is one more - I am also the first male volunteer for Baby Haven and for Child Haven. I guess all three facilities too a risk and perhaps I did too, but I think it has been a great experience all the way around. Most importantly, it's had a positive effect on the children. If you think about it, these children rarely get the opportunity to engage with positive men in their lives. Often times the only men they have encountered, have left them emotionally and physically scarred.

They have called me a "trail blazer" here and I have come to really embrace the title and that role. These children need to see - to know - that men can be loving and can genuinely care about them without exploitation. And, the young boys need to witness what it's like to be a positive man.

I was always told by my [adoptive] father that a man's word is all you have, so "do what you say". He taught me that you'll be judged by your actions in life. I was lucky to have a man help guide me down the right path, and still it was hard at times. I can only imagine what it must be like for young boys who don't have any real male role models.

So now, it is my job to take what I have learned and use it to gently push these young boys and girls too, down the right path. It has become my job, to help show them that everything that they desire in life can be obtained, as long as they try.
"Don't let anyone in this world steal your joy," I explained to one young boy the other day."

"I can't is NOT a word," I told him, as the little boy told me of his dream to become a South African police officer. When I asked him why he had this goal he said, "Uncle Sydney, I just want to help people."

So, who's the role model now?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Child Bobo

“Some days are all about anger management. Not mine, but in this case, a young a child we’ll call “Child Bobo”. You see, many of these children, including Child Bobo, where found roaming the streets their local townships with none to take care for them. They have anger issues and don’t know what to do with their feelings.
On this particular day, Child Bobo was upset and began to swing on another child. “No, no”, I quickly explained grabbing his hand. We went outside and walked together to cool off a bit and talk.
These children are so complex. Child Bobo’s eyes were so innocent, yes he boiling over with intense emotions. I explained to him that when you lose your temper and strike someone, there is no winner. He said to me, “Uncle Sydney, I like to win.” To which I replied, “ you are a winner Child Bobo, but when you do things of that nature and you hurt another person, you hurt yourself too.”
“I understand Uncle Sydney,” he said shaking his head.
“So, do we hit people?” I asked just to make sure he really got it. “No”, he quickly answered back. I felt satisfied. But, not nearly as satisfied as I would feel later in the day.
During lunch, Child Bobo’s past would haunt him. The children were served soup and sausage. He would eat the soup, but I noticed he would cut up the sausage and it would disappear. Turns out he would shove it in his pocket in case he went starving again and had to scavenge for food. I told him he could go ahead and eat the sausage and there would be more if he wanted it later. He simple said, “okay”, unwrapped it and ate it.
Later in the day, Child Bobo and I sat down to study our ABC’s, basic math and even a bit of multiplication. Answer after answer, Child Bobo got each one right.
He smiled as he looked up at me and said, “I am smart. I AM a winner!” All I could say was, “You are! You are an inspiration to so many.”

A Bit About Sydney Harrison:

“It was September 17th, 1974. I came into the world weighing 2 pounds 1 ounce, clinging to life with every breath. I was two months premature. My intestines were being devoured by gangrene. My blood was tainted too and required a transfusion. Add to that a nervous system that was severely damaged and I was a newborn baby, orphaned at birth and barely hanging on. Doctors gave me a ten percent chance of survival.
During the first six months of my life, I was operated on several times, and practically lived in the hospital.
To me, “Mommy” was some nice lady in a white nurses outfit – several different ladies, in fact.
That is, until I was taken in on December 17th 1974.
That is when the Harrison family in Maryland, became my foster family. A decision that would change my life and give me a second chance. For the next four years, The Harrisons would fight to adopt me. It was tough for them because they are white and I am bi-racial. The adoption agency believed my forever family should be a couple of color. But, The Harrisons did not give up. They believe that love has no color and in the end they were right.
At the age of four, the adoption went through and I became Sydney Harrison. A child with a family – with security – and now, with newly found hope. Soon, my mother and nana would introduce me to the game of soccer. They would go outside and kick the ball with me.
Life was great, until entered preschool and it became clear that I would suffer from some academic issues. I was diagnosed with dyslexia, and had other developmental delays. My motor skills were also behind. I had to take classes at Prince George’s County Hospital that helped me grip objects and helped improve my nervous system.
Unfortunately, some teachers were ignorant about my condition and labeled my retarded. But my parents weren’t willing to accept that and once again – fought for me.
They enrolled me in Montessori school, where my Nana was a teacher and my siblings were also in attendance.
My Grandmother worked hard teaching me how to read. It was difficult, but not as much of a challenge as what was beginning trouble me on the inside.
By middle school I started asking some tough questions why did my birth mother abandon me? Why were other kids always calling me stupid and retarded? What was wrong with me? Children teased me about being an orphan. It was a lot for a 13-year-old boy to take.
Thank goodness for – soccer! It was the one thing I was really good at and I had a relentless drive on the field.
I became the 10th best player in the State of Maryland for my age. Soccer became my safe haven. For the first time, people could believe in me, and that felt great.
It still had anger issues, because as other children were getting into private schools and excelling, I was still wrestling with identity issues. I started to rebel. I got lazy and started getting into fights. I was lashing out at a world that had hurt me.
Somehow through it all, I managed to graduate from high school. By the age of 21, I had become a father. The woman I was with had given birth to a baby boy, and I was a daddy. Whether I was prepared for it or not, I suddenly found myself responsible for another life. When my son was three, I started to coach soccer him in soccer. I coached his team; the South Bowie Sharks, for seven seasons when I became the head coach. It was great, because I was able to use my life experience to teach the boys not only about the game, but also about overcoming life’s challenges. I taught them about how I learned to trust, to persevere, and to be resilient. I count this coaching experience to be among my first adult successes. When it comes to the game itself - we had 57 wins in seven seasons, and 8 losses. We won three county championships and going to five.
We learned how to win together. It also taught me about a little selflessness can make a real difference in a child’s life.
Later, at the age of 32, I went through a very emotional period. That is time when I became to understand search for answer about my birth mother and my conception. It was a time I would be called upon to grow and forgive for than I ever expected. When I found my birth mother, I learn that I was born of rape. It was hard for me to accept. I fought for two years after that to find forgiveness for what had happen to me.
I was among the walking wounded -- scared to love, to trust, and to feel too deeply.

I turned to my adoptive family to see me through and with tremendous support and resiliency; here I am now –a once broken man who has learned to overcome.
Which brings me to the place where I find myself today, in following in my parent’s footsteps in real estates and now volunteering for Veronica’s Story Foundation.
It’s my way to give back in the name of the unconditional love what was shown to me.

It is from my family that I learned that we are one big family, and we are here to support and love each other. “ Sydney Harrison

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Biking Towards Bliss..

“Today while repairing the bikes at Child Haven, a little girl came up to me and uttered three simple words that had a great impact on me and showed me that I had made an impact on her too. The girl named we’ll call Nike said, “Uncle Sydney… I missed you.” I missed her too. I had been away working in neighboring Soweto with a different group of children, but it was clear, a bond had been established and that made me feel great! Little did I know, I was to experience even stronger feelings – good and bad.
Seconds later another child, who had suffered twenty seven broken bones [from abuse], ran up to me and gave me a hug. “Uncle Sydney, can you fix my bike so I may ride it?” She said. Then, in an unexpended soft and vulnerable tone she said, “ Will you be my Daddy?” This little girl was just four years old, but her question left this adult man speechless.
While may not have had an immediate answer for her, I couldn’t help but be moved by unbroken spirit. Here was a child who had been physically beaten and abused, seemingly by someone who was supposed to love her, yet she still desired a Daddy to love – and to love her. I simply melted.
I asked the House Mom to take a walk with me, so I could collect myself. While we walked, she taught me that love never fails regardless of how badly life knocks you down. She believes, as I do now, that with love, this four year old will be okay. I may not be able to be her Daddy, but I can be a “positive” male figure in her life right now and that counts because male volunteers are very rare at orphanages. And in my case, while I wasn’t abused, I can relate to having a tough start in life. But from the nurses who cared for me in the orphanage and hospital, my adoptive parents, I was brought back to life – and I she will be too. If my heart can be healed, hers can too.
As I walked to The Haven, there she was riding her bike.
“Thank you for fixing my bike Uncle Sydney,” she said as she smiled on the outside and I smiled on the inside! “
(Contents by Sydney Harrison/TN)

Simply Inspirational ...

“The other day I did something I haven’t really done before, I shared part of my own personal adoption story with some of the children I serve. It was a way to build trust – and to my surprise, it built something in me too.
About 125 boys and girls play soccer here at the center in Soweto. I help teach or coach some of them. It’s a game I love, and now I love sharing it with them. But today, before we started playing, I decided to open up my mouth and - my heart.
You see, for those of you who don’t know – I too was an orphan and I almost died at birth. Like many of the children here, I was very sick and abandoned. It is a rough way to be propelled into this complicated world. As, I was speaking to the kids, I couldn’t help but drift away – lost in their wide eyes. They were spellbound and so was I, but for different reasons. They children are all 3-to-18 years old and although they all overcoming their own challenges, they were so open and eager to share, learn and bond. I was taken aback. My heart was full.
Although we were born decades and worlds apart -- in this moment, the a bridge was being forded between us that would last a lifetime. It was one colossal cantilever. I knew it and so did they, even if none of us stopped to mark the moment with words.
If for one moment I wanted to feel sorry for myself and how I might have come into the world, their sobering reality put everything in perspective and very quickly.
These children face with a population where 26 percent if those around them are HIV positive and 15 million children are orphaned due to AIDS. It is crippled their country, along with rape and poverty. All stemming in part, from the ravages of apartheid.
But what I find so amazing is that these children are not depressed or hopeless. In fact, they are full of life and joy. You can see it on their faces. They are as enthusiastic as any child anywhere in the world! They are full of happiness and they have the expectation of love. So, after out talk we got up.. and we did what we love to do.. we played soccer and we laughed and we had a great time.
These children are nothing short of inspirational! (Contents by Sydney Harrison/TN)”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Laid To Rest...

"Thank you for all of your comments and words of support. Baby Joy will be laid to rest on Friday morning. There will be a reception at Baby Haven where volunteer and staff, along with the House Moms will get a chance to celebrate the life of this young child and all his beautiful smiles..." (Contents by Sydney Harrison/TN)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

In Mourning ...

"I was awakened to the sad news that a baby I changed and held, passed away this morning. This child was full of smiles. I called him Baby Joy. I'm pretty shook up right now. He was just 6 months old. He was negative. We don't know why he died. I'm at a loss for words...." (Contents by Sydney Harrison/TN)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Game Day Lesson or Lesson for Life...

“Today was game day. We got into the van, heading for the Soweto Community Soccer game. When we arrive, I couldn’t help but be taken aback, because the field was just plain old dirt. Well, let me revise that – there was also plenty of broken glass, trash, old hoses, belts from old vehicles – and yes, two soccer goals. Wow, this was the field we were to compete on!?

There were no lines marking the bounds, BUT there were twenty two excited kids, ready to play the game that they loved. So, we cleared our minds, put our game faces on – and we played.

The Soweto team was losing the first half, so Coach Lucky and I explained to the team that they needed to be more aggressive. We told them to hold their positions on the field. With five minutes left in the game, we were still losing – but then – with 45 seconds remaining, they poured it on with a penalty shot and scored! Then, a young boy on our team ripped a shot from about 25 yards away to get the go ahead goal – and we won the game!! What a great feeling. For all the adversity these young children have overcome and are still facing today, they needed this small victory in their lives.
I wish you could have seen the joy on their faces – shared their moment of achievement. It is something I won’t soon forget.
It's imprinted on me in part, because these boys taught me an important lesson on that dirty, South African soccer field. That joy is a gift given to us at birth and it is ours to embrace or to lose. Even in what can be miserable conditions, these poor boys found pure joy and celebrated it.

The joy that is in them, is profound, and it’s something that nobody an take away on game day.. or on any day. Until next time... ”

(Contents by Sydney Harrison/TN)

Soweto Soccer ...

“I watched as kids play with a soccer ball that had been repaired and patched.. and repaired and patched so many times the it hardly looked familiar anymore. Oddly, the kids didn't seem phased by the battered ball, but I was.

That’s when Kenton, my guide, introduced me to a man named – Lucky. I would latter learn just how fitting a name can be. He was Coach lucky, the Soweto soccer coach. “Thank you for coming, said Coach Lucky. I would love for you to teach the boys some of your strategies.”
As Coach Lucky spoke, I said to myself, “Wow, now here is a man that can teach me and a lot. And not just about soccer, but about survival – about life.”

As I began to pass out the donated soccer balls and equipment, which I had brought over from The States, I quickly realized how appreciative Coach Lucky and the young players are for everything they have and everything they receive. I was passing out the balls when I felt someone grab my hand. It was Coach Lucky. He looked at me and said, “Thank You!”. Two simple words that made my heart sink.

It gave be great pleasure to watch the kids inflate each ball into a circle of – hope. Soon, the kids were playing soccer with them and that is significant because here- soccer is more than just a sport. For many children soccer is all they have, that’s it. Their hopes and dreams are formed and sometimes die on a soccer field. It is also where children, some of whom are orphaned, can just be kids for a while. And, as I was about to see, game day… would be extra special – win OR lose. “ (Contents by Sydney Harrison/TN)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Soweto Blues (Or So It Would Seem..)

“The living conditions… well, I have never seen anything like this before. Families crammed in one-room shacks - living their lives below tin roofs with rocks stacked on them to keep from blowing off during violent storms. Some folks don’t even have a roof at all to keep them dry. For those families, a bright blue tarp will have to do.

As I stepped out of the vehicle and looked around, all I could see were dirt roads and row after row of these shacks... just five feet from each other.”
And the families who lived there were the lucky ones... because “they” had shacks!"

It’s estimated that almost 5 Million people call Soweto – home, whether they live in a house, a shack or on the street.
“I gathered myself and began to pass out donations. But, as it turned out, I wasn’t just giving them out to just children.. I ended up handing out donations to moms, dads… children.. to everyone. The toddlers were so grateful for the simplest of gifts. Their eyes lit up to receive a pen, a pencil, a toy or a T-shirt."
We just don’t know how good we have it.

"I watched a woman roll up pieces of wet coal to form bricks, so she could sell them – hoping make enough money to feed her family. And all she asked me for, was an American pin for her baby. As I placed the American pin on the child’s tiny, filthy shirt.. I said to the mom, “Do you know what this is?” She answered, “ Yes, it means peace!” And on went the American pin, right next to a 60’s peace sign the child was already wearing. “Thank you, Good Man… God will bless you, “ said the mother. Then she asked me to take a picture with her. I obliged, as I fought back tears over the irony of this unusual, yet somewhat symbolic moment. “
Here I was, an American with so much, having overcome my own personal trials as an orphan, in a village a world away… where many families don’t have running water. Women walk a block to fetch clean drinking and cooking water from a community spicket. Their bathroom? – A port-a-potty. I was floored, but, I was about to learn an important lesson!“
(Content by Sydney Harrison/TN)

Soweto Awakening...

“Today was rough for me. I thought I was prepared… but I wasn’t. You see, I was driven to the township of Soweto, just outside Johannesburg.

To call it a low-income, poverty stricken area… doesn’t even come close to describing what life is like here. Let me do my best to try.

At the steering wheel was a man- another volunteer named Kenton. Little did I know he was driving me into what would become the most eye-opening and humbling experience of my life! A series of experiences, sights, smells and sounds that would literally leave me speechless for more than two hours. “
(Post Content by Sydney Harrison/TN)