By Kaitlyn Ecklund
When Alfred walked into the room, smiling widely and greeting us warmly, we were conducting student interviews for Keyara’s Gift. I felt a wave of awe and respect wash over me. It wasn’t that he had changed much from when we first met him in 2009, eight years ago - he, of course, was taller and more mature, but it was just the fact that he was there, smiling and talking, and that we could finally see him face to face after all these years - something Alfred can never truly do.
Alfred and I
<- Playing with Alfred in 2009
Reuniting with Alfred in 2017 ->
On July 26th, 2009, Alfred was hit by a car and sustained injuries that have left him permanently blind. This event completely changed his life. Before the accident, Alfred had graduated from Kindergarten at the top of his class and his mother, Nancy, had great aspirations for his future. As the gravity of her son’s injuries sank in, Nancy felt helpless. She wondered how he could he succeed and build a future for himself now that he was blind and unable to do anything by himself, especially in a country with such limited medical resources?
Alfred stayed at JFK Hospital in Monrovia for a month after his accident before he was released to go home. In a desperate attempt to find a solution for her son’s blindness, Nancy took Alfred to Cooper Eye Clinic to see if there was anyone there who could help. As the doctor told her there was no treatment or surgery that could be done to bring back her son’s eyesight, all of Nancy’s remaining hope crumbled along with her composure and all she could do was sob. As she wept for her son’s lost future, Alfred reached out to his mother and told her, “Don’t worry mama, it will be alright. Let’s go home now.” His words quickly brought those in the waiting room to tears - seeing the courage of this young boy, whose future had been robbed. One of the individuals to witness their interaction was a close friend of ours Mammie, who had been at the clinic to escort another patient for us that day.
The next day, Mammie brought Alfred and his mother to our house to see if there was anything we could do to help and offer some hope to Nancy and Alfred. My mom was homeschooling my brother and me when they arrived. As my mom and Nancy talked about Alfred, I decided to go and grab some toys - ones that were more tactile and sound related for Alfred to play with. As I played and talked with Alfred, my mom stood in awe of the scene before her and felt it as reaffirmation as to us living here in Liberia and helping those in need.
Before and after the accident
<- Kindergarten graduation photo
Alfred rode on his mom's back after the accident ->
My mom wrote in her blog at the time, “During our visit, Nancy began to cry saying she didn’t know what she could do for Alfred and wondered, ‘How could God allow this to happen?’ Kaitlyn spoke up and said, ‘Maybe God has a wonderful plan for Alfred – he has a special gift now.’ Both Alfred and Kaitlyn had a simple but beautiful childlike faith that God does have a plan and it brought a smile to Nancy’s face.”
After my mom made a few phone calls, she found that there was a blind school in Monrovia. Within 30 minutes of making the calls, my mom, Nancy, and Alfred were at the school’s door, where they met many other children Alfred’s age that were also blind - but learning how to live with their disabilities.
For the first time since the accident, Nancy had renewed hope in Alfred’s future. She was able to see other children that were able to function on their own and continue learning. Now she just had to trust that God would provide a way for Alfred to go to the blind school. If the funds were made available, he would board there with the other students and only go home during long weekends and holidays. Nancy’s husband had left her with two children and she braided hair in order to provide food for her family – but even that is difficult to do some days. As my mom spoke with the administration, they agreed to give us some time to find sponsors for Alfred. The cost for his room, board and education would be about $500 for the year.
In her blog about his story, my mom reflected on her thoughts as Alfred sat on our porch singing, “It is well with my soul” and an African song that says, “what man intended for evil, God intended for good.” All my mom could do was smile and be amazed at Alfred’s faith in God, even throughout everything he had endured. He had touched our hearts with his continuous displays of courage and faith in the face of adversity and the unknown.
Visiting the Blind School
Alfred being carried into the Blind School for the first time in 2009
Sitting down with Alfred this past July, we marveled at all he has learned attending the blind school for seven years. Now he has gone back to living with his mother and has recently been promoted to 6th grade at the blind school. Next year, he will go to a public school in his village - the first time he’s done so since the accident. As we reconnected with him and reminisced, he continued to astound us with his faith that everything would be okay and that he could keep up with all of the other students. When asked to reflect on how he felt about being given the opportunity to go to the blind school, Alfred said this - and it’s something I’ll never forget. “When Sis Karen took me to the blind school, I could see myself climbing up and making it. If other people here can make it, then I can make it. I’m pleased with myself now being ready [for life] because I see other blind people sitting on the streets doing what?-” lifting his hands helplessly. “I am not disabled but I am able.” His unwavering courage never ceases to amaze me.
Our family has had the unique privilege of seeing Alfred change - from a young boy being carried on his mother’s back and fed as though he was a baby to the happy, confident young man he is today. He is now ready to go back into public school life for the first time since his accident. We hope you consider joining us in our mission to send kids, like Alfred, to school every year and watch them grow up to become successful, functional parts of society.
Want to Help more like Alfred?
Alfred in 2017
Alfred is extremely grateful for the opportunity to go to school and learn life skills!