Moon landing (part 2)

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The second part of a blog descibing how alien a new foster family in a new country can be and how that feeling can be overcome with love, teamwork and perseverence.

Language was a priority. He had no English whatsoever. Having observed him with his new friends, I could tell he was an insular and shy boy – not a big talker by any stretch of the imagination. He didn’t transform in their company and in this I saw not just a huge challenge but a great opportunity, for we were beginning to form a sense of his character.

It was the summer holidays, so whilst we quickly got him a school place for the September, we had to find something in the meantime. I’d printed off flashcards and tested out his maths knowledge. But he needed something more. I enrolled him in a language school which taught English as a foreign language. In the mornings, they would teach him English and in the afternoons he and the other teens (mostly from European countries) would take a trip out somewhere. One day it might be the zoo, another a jam factory, they toured the local town, helping him to become familiar with it, so that one day when we went to get his hair cut, he led me straight to a barbers that he had already made a mental note of. He learned where the railway station was and how to get in and out of town. He was starting to glimpse a new type of freedom, a new independence and he was starting to be less daunted by it. In fact, he began to crave it.

At home, he watched how we did things, how we ate at the table, how we spoke to one another, he quickly learned please and thank you. He saw that we all pulled together. Slowly, our home became his. It was his safe place. We still couldn’t communicate easily but we cooked together and ate together and I knew, whilst how we did this was unfamiliar, its essence had underpinned his family life back home.

A sporting chance

We knew that sport transcends language and so we enrolled him in a summer sports club. He stayed quite close to my birth children for the week. It was clear he felt vulnerable and disconnected, but at the end of it we saw him smile for the first time as he presented us with his certificate for “most improved sportsman”. Praise and a clap on the back is easily understood in any language and we saw how important praise would be in building his confidence and keeping him motivated. This would be a glimmering thread running through his schooling.

We went in to his new school before the term began and we were able to speak of our lad’s resilience and willingness to learn. The tone had been set. Whilst the challenge for him was enormous, he was off to a flying start. The school had assigned him a buddy and this remarkable young boy showed such kindness to our foster son and continues to be a huge support to him to this day.

Two years on and the challenges continue to be overwhelming. He has had to make an enormous adjustment in the face of so much uncertainty. He has had a new family to get to grips with and all the nuances that entails. He has had to embark on his teen years and all the internal chaos that brings. He has had a new language to master. He has had to come to terms with the enormity of his loss and trauma. He has had to relive this during his asylum process. He has had to build and maintain strange, new relationships. He has had to learn things for which he had no previous context. He has had to identify where danger might lurk in this unfamiliar, seemingly safe world. He has had to face a future that is undefined and sketchy and full of fear. The list of what this child has had to achieve goes on and on.

A toolkit for the future

If I had to pinpoint the things that have helped him on his journey, a toolkit if you like, it would include: a social worker who genuinely cares for him, who sees and listens to his needs and feelings, a school that is actively cheering him on and nudging him towards the finishing line, two new siblings who are able to leave him when he needs to be left and embrace him when he is able and willing, school friends who have shown themselves to be kind and steady, brothers who have been where he has been, seen what he has seen and bear the same scars, physical activity to exhaust a body that is unable to rest, excellent therapy run by an organisation specifically tailored to help with his particular trauma and loss, a new independence that has enabled him to go to new places and make new friends, an understanding that it is indeed this foreign family who will be his compass, who will help him cross craters and of course, that precious ingredient that we all have but very few need to draw on to such an extent – the human spirit. When I think of all he has been through, when I see how unhappy he can still seem, when it feels like he has stalled, when it feels like we have failed, when we are struggling to connect with one another and frustration is rife, there it is – this unbreakable force that should be in splinters, still alive, still keeping him going. It is the spirit in him I pray for most. Without it he has nothing, with it we all have unimaginable hope.

Read Moon landing (part 1)