Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Who's your daddy?
He was playing Uno with a few of the girls and I caught him hiding cards under the table. "Cheater!", I yelled at him and he flashed me a huge grin. "What's your name?" I asked. "Junior Vandomme," he answered, with that cocky, self-confident air. "Well, Junior, you are obviously too old to be cheating at cards." He just laughed merrily and went back to his game. OK, I thought, he's a typically goofy, immature, flirtatious 17 year old boy. Oh, was I ever wrong!
Over the course of my stay in Bolosse, I watched Junior interact with the other children and I realized that he is truly a leader at the orphanage. He looks out for the girls, especially his favorite, Edline, as well as for me. I will never forget the night that he marched straight up to the 25 year old man who was harassing me and told the stalker to stay away or else! He maintains order at the boys' house, making sure that teeth are brushed, that the TV is turned off at the right time, and that the boys who are being punished for failing in school are not getting away with banned activities. He helps me distribute clothing and other donations to the boys in a fair manner, and he cares attentively for the laptop that Nikki allowed him to use during the summer. He plays with the toddlers and babies from NLL, never teasing them or making them cry as some of the HFC kids do, but really caring for them. I see him more often with a 5 year old than with another teenager.
Junior, or Vando as the boys and I call him, turned 18 in April. I discussed his situation with my father, who had met and chatted with Vandomme during his visit in February, and my father pointed out that the teen needed responsability, something to make him feel like a man. This was when I came up with the concept of sports camp for the little boys. It worked like a charm. Junior was thrilled when I proposed the idea and he took his job as a coach very seriously. He didn't miss a single practice, he prepared drills ahead of time, and he ruled the field firmly but kindly. He encouraged the little boys, he disciplined them, he taught them, and to a certain extent, just loved them, the way he had seen men on American teams doing. After one practice, I pulled Junior and the other coaches aside. "These little boys don't have fathers to teach them and to help them grow up, so do you know who they are looking to? You. They are watching everything you do, everything you say, and they are learning from it. So as far as I'm concerned, you are their fathers. And I think you are doing a great job!"
I was afraid that with my departure, the sports camp would end, but thanks to Junior's devotion, it continued and expanded, including more of the little boys. He was so responsible in his duties that Nikki didn't even have to attend the practices as I had. In addition to coaching, Junior became our official DJ. I used to have to call Janel, one of the janitors, to set up the sound system whenever we were having a party or a meeting, but Junior calmly took over that role and did a much better job. I loved not having to worry about the technical side of things and being able to just hand it over to him, knowing that it would be done perfectly.
How does a boy that never had a father to imitate become such a good role model and leader for younger boys? I don't know, except to say that God obviously has a very cool plan for Junior. Of course, the battle is nowhere near won - he still has 4 years of high school and then whatever trade school or university we find for him. Junior needs support, especially from grown men who can speak his language. I've seen him react when Kim's doctor friend, Claude, visits, or when my French speaking father came to stay. He is dying for the approval and the friendship of some real men, dying to see if the way that he fathers the kids of HFC is the right way to do it. I don't know how these needs are going to be met, but I know that they will.