My earliest memory as a child was when I drove my Dad’s car across my village recreation ground. I still remember the thrill of ‘driving’ his car – sat on my Dad’s lap, my tiny hands clutching the enormous steering wheel beneath his. Afterwards, we went to the corner shop to buy 10 pence of sweets and I proudly declared to Mr Pitts, the shopkeeper, ‘I have driven Daddy’s car’.
Looking back, I don’t know whether my Dad was more worried that he had let a 4 year-old drive a car or about the trouble he was going to get in with our village sports club for ruining the rec.
Thirty years later in Uganda, one of the eldest boys, Ismail, is obsessed with my car. Every time I see him he asks me, ‘Lucy, where is your car?’
I have just returned from a hectic two-week visit to Uganda. It went by like a whirlwind – a blur of non-stop meetings with the Government, District level officials, funders, staff and the Management Team. It was a very productive trip but with so much to fit in, I hardly spent any time with the kids. This is probably a good thing, as I make a point of not spending too much time with them since they already have secure attachments with their carers. And after being abandoned, the last thing they need is to be spoilt and loved (temporarily) by me and then experience that feeling of abandonment all over again.
But I wanted Ismail to have his first memory, something he would remember forever. Not that his mother abandoned him with his sister and brother, not that he has been in our care for three years because we are struggling to find him and his two siblings a family who will foster them all together. Not that he has spent the first 3 years of his precious life in an institution without a family of his own. I wanted to give him a memory like the one I have and still cherish.
So I took him out to my car and sat him on my lap. I turned on the engine and Ismail, eyes wide with anticipation and excitement, drove my car. We went up the drive then we reversed down the drive. We went up the drive again and… we went down the drive. Ismail ferociously turned the steering wheel back and forth but due to being a three year-old, did not manage to turn the wheels. After going for our drive, we sauntered back into the centre where he proudly announced to all staff and children ‘I drove Lucy’s car’. No one believed him until I corroborated his story.
The next day, sitting at my desk in cold England, a photo pops up on our community site of Ismail proudly washing his car. I smiled and hoped that for Ismail, the memory of driving a car for the first time will stay with him and that the other, more painful memories, will pale into insignificance. Our number one priority is to find Ismail, along with his little brother and sister, a family to call their own.
It is harder finding a family who will take three children and the easiest option would be to separate them, but we are desperate to keep them together. Yet we can’t, and won’t, keep them forever. So we have created this video to encourage Ugandan families to foster children who are in desperate need of foster care. Although it is common for Ugandans to informally foster children in their family or local community, formal fostering is a new concept. But with a country full of generous, kind-spirited and family-orientated people – we feel confident that fostering will soon catch on. And that for Ismail and his siblings, they will find a loving family to make new memories with.