Ladd and I just returned from a wonderful trip to the beautiful state of Massachusetts. We flew over for a number of reasons, but our highest objectives were to see how Alex and Leo are doing, meet the wonderful people involved in their lives on that side of the country, and to try to put together an idea of what the coming months and years will look like in concordance with what Leo’s doctor and social worker are planning for the future. Each of these objectives were accomplished, and we wanted to put together an email to summarize what we learned and decisions necessary as we move forward with this miraculous story.
Medically speaking, Leo will have one more surgery done sometime mid-summer this year and will be ready to travel by August. This surgery will be on the inside of his nose. Although it sounds invasive and difficult, Leo’s doctor believes the recovery time will take less than a month. Leo’s social worker and doctor have said Leo will need ongoing procedures through his adolescence, and potentially even as an adult. This means that Leo will spend time in America and Burundi; he will not stay permanently in either country. From what we understand, he will come back to the US multiple times in the years to come, but never as long as he has been here this time. Leo’s social worker has said that five months would probably be the maximum time he would be in the US again, and that their goal is to do shorter stints as to not disrupt Leo’s life in Burundi.
Since that is the case, we must formulate a plan that gives Leo the tools to function in both countries. Consequently we need to put a plan in place for him to receive education that transfers easily from Burundi to America, as well as a living situation that is conducive to going back and forth. Psychologically speaking, Leo’s social worker, who shared that 40% of Shriner’s burned victims come from poor international countries, does not seem to be concerned with any problems of living in both worlds. Rather, she sees it as a celebration that Leo will have two languages, two cultures, and two families in each country. She encouraged us to be excited with Leo about what a cool opportunity it is and to be careful not to speak concern, fear and anxiety about these transitions into Leo. Obviously, no one is belittling how hard this initial transition back will be, but the professionals involved in this field see children live like this throughout their lives and they are just fine. They learn to adapt and live in both worlds, which really is a gift.
Shriner’s is very clear about their goals to not make new US citizens, but instead to strengthen citizens of other countries to live their lives in their own home cultures in a healthy way. Even lawfully, it doesn’t seem possible, nor is it desireable, for Leo to remain in the US forever. As much as that would bless us in the US to have him around, we must honor his Burundian momma and papa, and his home culture. Just as America has provided Leo access to health care and new friends, Burundi provided him life, culture, and family. Both of these cultures must be honored and seen as valuable and respected. We must refrain from seeing Burundi as the enemy that Leo needs saved from, and that America is the hero of the story. Jesus is the hero of this story, and Leo has been blessed by Him to grow up with the opportunity to have the beauty of American culture and Burundian culture apart of his life.
Education is the biggest concern of many people. We would like to detail what transition back academically may look like so that we do not end up with many people trying to fix a problem that does not exist.
Kings International School (picture at bottom of page) is the private school that Alex and myself both worked at in the years we were living in Burundi. The goal of the school is to raise up leaders from within the country to be educated internationally so they can have a positive and Christ-like influence in Burundi and the rest of the world. It is a top-notch school that receives all of it’s curriculum and testing from the UK. Even though the school utilizes a British system, we have seen students easily transfer to the US, Canada and all over Europe, Asia and Africa.The school is accredited and highly competitive as it is by far the best school in the country. Kings International School goes from preschool through secondary school, and students learn English and French. It isn’t a boarding school, which I believe helps the students remain connected to Burundian culture and continuing to speak the local tongue, Kirundi. What makes this school stand out is their holistic approach to each student. Education is not the only focus, but there is a whole department that is devoted to the psychological and spiritual care of each student. Alex was one of the main counselors on the campus, as he is educated in Psychology. I taught Bible, but I also tutored and assisted many of the academic classes and saw first hand howintentional the teachers are. The class size’s are small for this reason, with no class being more than 22 students.
**for their official site, click here – http://www.thekingsschool.edu.bi
**scroll to the bottom of this email to see some pictures of the school, Leo’s family and home.
We see Leo going to this school as an answer to many questions. We are personal friends with all the teachers, the headmasters and leaders of the school; having those connections will make communication with how Leo is doing much easier. Most of the teachers come from Britain, the United States, Canada, Kenya, and Uganda. All of them must have accredited degrees in their fields. We can say confidently that Leo would receive an outstanding and culturally rich education at this school. That said, it is at this point still an option not a solid decision because there are some blanks in the story left to be filled in.
What are those blanks?
If Leo is to receive an international education, like I said before, he must live in the capital. This is a very exciting opportunity because even though his family lives a couple hours away, they would have access to visiting him, and Leo could spend weekends and summers with them; a wonderful way for him to stay connected to his roots and relationships. But the question now is: Where does he live in the city? At this point, Alex is still praying and deciding what his involvement with Leo looks like long-term. He is open to Leo staying with him and his family, but is waiting to see if that is the right decision. This wouldn’t mean that Alex would adopt Leo, but that he would continue to be his guardian. Leo would live with him during school terms and would be accompanying him back to the US when necessary. There is no pressure on Alex from us or anyone else to commit to Leo for the rest of his life. Alex still has graduate schooling that he wants to finish and dreams and aspirations that we want to honor and help make possible. We still aren’t sure if Alex’s involvement with Leo is seasonal or permanent, but we trust that God will show Alex in the right timing.
If Alex decides that long-term guardianship is not the right decision for him and their roads do go different ways, we will figure out something else. We are not worried about this. We have hundreds of contacts in Burundi, from locals to expatriates. We are confident that God will provide another option. We do not want Leo to be handed from guardian to guardian. So whoever Leo’s guardian ends up being in Bujumbura, it must be someone trustworthy that can offer a semi-permanant home and relationship for Leo during his schooling years. If that person is Alex and Alex’s family, this would be wonderful. If it isn’t, then we will work something else out, most likely with Ladd and myself on the ground.
As said before, we are keen to set up something that:
- Handles Leo’s bi-cultural mentality well. We should not be expecting him to be fully American or fully Burundian, but giving him linguistic and cultural tools to live well in both places.
- Raises him knowing Jesus. Therefore, the guardians would be born-again believers.
- Provides a quality, international education
- Can be trusted financially over the years. Please see previous financial letter concerning this or ask me to send it to you again privately.
The other “blank” is the country of Burundi itself.As many of you know, it is currently in the middle of a political crisis and actually getting to Burundi physically in this moment would be near impossible. We will not be able to take Leo and Alex back to Burundi unless we can actually get into the country safely, and it is at a place where Leo can enroll in school. Kings International School had to close a few weeks early this last month (first time his has ever happened) in an effort to keep students safe, but they are planning and prepared to open again September 7th. We are well aware of this quickly changing situation and are not planning on sending either of them home until things calm down, schools are open, and Alex’s family is back in their home.
Until then, we will wait and see. That is the plan we currently have in place for when they return, but the “when” hinges on the stability of the country. Maybe it is an option for Leo and Alex to stay in Rwanda for a time, although we (Alex, Ladd and myself) have not processed that through as an option just yet. There are dangers in Leo staying in the US too long as well. Anyone of you who has kids knows what constant attention does to a child. We want to protect Leo from pride and selfishness. Every kid needs to have the chance to live out normal days of not being the center of attention. Also the longer he is here, the harder it will be to transition back and especially to transition into speaking his mother tongue. Another danger is that of Alex not being able to move on with his life. He came over here under the impression that it would be six weeks to six months. He has not stressed that he wants to go home right away, and his beautiful heart is open to whatever God will have him do. But given what he decides to do in the long-run, he has a life to go back to/move on with as soon as possible. So we will assess these things as they come up.
Ideally, the country goes through elections just fine in June, things calm down and we can return with Alex and Leo in August. If that timeline is disrupted by political unrest, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
A few last words to those wanting to get involved…
1. We love that there are so many people that want to be involved in Alex and Leo’s life. All of you have rich connections and great ideas. Please, as you feel the desire to help, contact Alex, Daryl and June Minnich, or Ladd and myself to ask how you can help before you act. This can get really complicated with too many people all trying to come up with solutions to problems that either don’t exist or that we are already working on. We would love your help and involvement! The more people involved in this story the better, but we want to organize people’s efforts in the best way.
2. Like any functional machine, there does need to be a select group of people making decisions. Please trust Alex, Ladd, myself, Daryl, and June to take all of your amazing ideas and put them into action in the best way. Ladd, myself and Alex have experience in Burundi, speak their language and are well-versed on cultural communication. That said, your opinion and advice is welcomed and taken seriously.
Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed to helping our dear friends. We look toward the future with excitement to see what God will do! If you have any thoughts, questions or concerns please reach out to us! I recently wrote out a whole letter in Q&A form of how money is being handled, so if you would like a copy of that, let me know.
Bless you all!
Ladd and Carley Serwat