S H A K I L

BY SARAH NININGER

Meet my handsome friend, neighbor and Valentine, Shakil. He lives a stones throw away, literally so close that we can hear his mom talking to him or yelling for him to come bathe. He is one of three siblings, the middle child to be precise.

I remember when I first met Shakil. It was November 2014. We had just found the new location for Action in Africa’s new center. We were swinging by the new facility to take updated photos to send back to our team in the U.S. before we signed the contract. There were ten or so kids that were sitting outside the gate. They were excited to have some new faces in the neighborhood. We said hello to everyone and exchanged some bongas (the Ugandan version of a “fist-bump” or “pound it”). I then noticed that there was a little boy sitting behind the crowd with a ridiculously large grin on his face. I ran over to him and immediately realized why he hadn’t joined with the rest of the kids who greeted us. I noticed that his movement was limited due to some sort of physical disability, thus making walking a next to impossible feat. Despite what may be viewed as a limitation, his smile and laugher while giving me a bonga proved quite the opposite. Here was a kid that was happy to be in the sunshine, surrounded by his friends and family, admiring the new Mzungus that were moving in next door. Anyone could tell that this kid loved life.

I ran back to Adrianna, as it was time to leave. I confidently proclaimed that Shakil would be my new best friend. The kid sitting on the porch loved life and I loved that soon I would have the opportunity to live life with him.

Now fast forward to January 2015. I had just arrived back in Uganda after a brief stint back in the States. We were moving into the new Center and more than eager to start back up our community development programs. As we were getting situated, the same neighborhood gang that greeted us back in November were quickly starting to feel at home with their new community center. They could be found helping sweep the porch, playing on the tire swing or just rolling in the grass. The best part about this was that they would bring Shakil with them. He would cheerfully sit in the grass, crawl around to join the rest of the kids, or was content just watching them run around while he held onto a ball.

After the first week or so of the kids coming by with Shakil, we started to really develop a relationship and bond with all of them. We were all calling each other by names and had begun to understand each other regardless of language barriers. We started to get to know their mothers and baby siblings. We could be found sitting on their front porch in the afternoons, trying to communicate with one another but succumbing to laughter because happiness and love are a universal language themselves.

The more time we spent with these kids and their families, the more we realized as a team that we wanted to continue to pour our time, energy, and love into them, especially Shakil.

After walking by Shakil’s house one morning, Maggie noticed that the gang of neighbors and siblings were helping him put on leg braces. As a group they were relentlessly dedicated to making their brother and dear friend experience the freedom that comes with the luxury of walking. That same afternoon we were having an Action in Africa team meeting. We discussed goals, short and long term, that we wanted to set. Maggie boldly and faithfully said that as a team we should commit to helping see that Shakil can one day walk. Without a second of hesitation we were all on board.

Since that meeting we have been scooping up our little man a few times a week for one on one sessions that would somewhat resemble a physical therapy lesson. We put him in his braces, walk a few laps around the porch, practice bending/extending/pushing/pulling his legs, play catch and kick a soccer ball around, and then end the session with a lengthy leg massage. All of which his older brother Jazil, at the wise old age of 6, insists on being a part of.

It’s without a doubt one of my favorite things each week. It is something that I desperately look forward to and love doing. While we are all trying to not get ahead of ourselves, and more or less don’t really know what we are doing, we are all firm believers that whether or not he walks anytime soon, that some TLC never hurts. It has been such a blessing developing a relationship with this dashing young man.

Shakil is funny. He is smart. He loves to play jokes and pinch my cheeks. His smile is contagious and speaks more than words ever would and his eagerness to walk just melts my heart every time we strap on those braces. And every time he attempts to say “Auntie Sarah” I’m pretty sure another unicorn is born. He is a gem. He has so much joy to offer this world and this life. 

SIDE NOTE: Shakil has been attending our afternoon workshops with all the other kids in the village. While he is eager to learn and participate, we are struggling with making him feel just like the rest of the kids. He has a lot of muscle spasms and rigid body movements which make it difficult for him to sit on the benches with the rest of the kids. We are currently trying to collect funds to purchase Shakil new braces and a high chair so he can comfortably and safely participate alongside all the other children. If you are interested in contributing please email me at Sarah@actioninafrica.com or donate below Thank you!!