*GENTLE is the girl with the massive smile. You can’t miss her! In photos from the Ark, Global Care’s day centre for children with disabilities in Soroti, Uganda, there is one girl with a megawatt beam. That’s Gentle!
But don’t let the smile fool you into thinking her life is easy. Gentle’s story is one of horrible prejudice, loss and neglect. Just the other day as our staff collected her in the centre’s minibus they overheard cruel comments, underlining again the stigma carried by children like Gentle. Soroti manager Owere Fred said: “People passing began to ask why rich people give their good car to carry useless children like these ones. The statement really broke my heart, on how the community still view the disabled children around them.”
Remember that, every time you see Gentle’s smile. And thank God for the interventions which support her and the resilience and grace which keep her smiling.
12-year-old Gentle* lives with aunts, an uncle, and several cousins on a small compound in the Soroti slums. Both her parents are dead. Gentle can’t speak and has poor movement in her arms and legs. Her bedroom is a small brick shed containing just two beds, with mattresses and mosquito nets provided by Global Care. There are no windows. Gentle’s sister sometimes shares the room and looks after her. Her brother helps when he is home. The family are extremely poor.
In Uganda, for children with disability, life is restricted and harsh. In this rural area with rough earth roads, even with a wheelchair supplied by Global Care, pushing Gentle is hard work. There are no social services, no accessible schools, limited health services – and no truly free healthcare. Gentle’s aunt cultivates a garden in a village some distance from Soroti and sells harvested food at market. This generates income for the whole family but means she’s often away from home. Gentle’s aunt loves her niece, but to others of the family she is a burden and inconvenience. Sometimes Gentle is left alone in the shed all day without food and water.
In 2014 Gentle started attending The Ark. Her intelligence quickly became apparent. Gentle began showing delight when meeting staff she recognised and started communicating using her own form of sign language.
Four years later, when the Ark minibus arrives to collect Gentle, her face breaks into that beautiful smile. Gentle loves her days playing and learning at The Ark.
Before attending The Ark, Gentle led an extremely isolated life. She had no friends. She couldn’t help herself and relied on family members to clean, dress and feed her. At The Ark, Gentle is safe and secure. She knows she and her friends are loved and appreciated, as special as any other children. There is no discrimination here. Staff believe every child has the potential to improve physically, emotionally and educationally.
With nutritious food, physiotherapy, and learning life skills alongside simple literacy and numeracy, Gentle’s life has totally changed. She can spell her name and can complete jigsaws with help. She can feed herself and is healthy and growing. She proudly shows visitors how she can write her name and count from one to ten. She’s learnt to feed and wash herself. She can dress herself. She moves about the Ark Centre shuffling on her bottom or walking on her knees.
Gentle is sociable and funny. She has a wry sense of humour and enjoys teasing staff, visitors and other children. When Gentle is sad, everyone is sad. Our Soroti managers Fred and David said, ‘Gentle’s progress is encouraging, and we are very impressed by what The Ark is doing for these children. Last month, for the first time, Gentle managed to come out of the van by herself!’
We cannot know what the future holds for Gentle, but in the meantime, she keeps practicing numbers and letters, improving physically with physiotherapy, and winning hearts with her infectious laugh and that beautiful smile.
You can support children like Gentle by sponsoring a child at The Ark or donating here
*Name changed to protect child’s identity