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August 15, 2011

One of my favorite children’s books growing up was called “Fortunately, Unfortunately.” It would go something like this:

“Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.
Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.
Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.
Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute.”

As a child, it was somewhat eye-opening to read this book and see how quickly adults believed life can and will change. It’s as if the older we get, the more we’ve learned to condition ourselves to expect that when things finally seem to be going well, brace yourself, because we all know the bad will inevitably come too. It’s just part of life, right?

But I’ll admit … as a kid I didn’t buy into this fortunately/unfortunately way of thinking very easily. In fact, after every “unfortunately” I would instantly look for the “fortunately” that would surely come next … because I knew it was there. All children’s books end with a “happy ending.” I also knew the book would have to end on “fortunately” too.

This week marked my first trip to the border with Somalia to meet just some of the 400,000 refugees living in the Dadaab refugee camp. I spent the majority of my time with the children. We didn’t share the same language, but smiling, waving and laughing proved to be our common denominators. I didn’t have any trouble making new “friends” with the Somali refugee children who were so inquisitive and welcoming.

Yet, it was 13-year-old Abdillahi, a Somali refugee living in Dadaab the past two months, who taught me that children truly don’t see the “unfortunately” in life.

World Vision's Mindy Mizell interviews Abdillahi, 13, in the Dadaab refugee camp.

World Vision's Mindy Mizell interviews Abdillahi, 13, in the Dadaab refugee camp.

Abdillahi was one of just a few children I met this week who speaks fluent English. I was able to interview him and learn more about his story, including that he had learned English going to school in Somalia and that he and his family left home to find food and water and to get away from the violence. What shocked me the most was when I asked him what World Vision and other aid organizations like ours could do that would help him the most.

I guess I expected him to say that he wanted more food, more water, better clothes or maybe a soccer ball. Instead, Abdillahi told me he wanted to go to school again! Not only did Abdillahi believe he had a bright future, but he spent several minutes advocating on behalf of his Somali friends and telling me that they all needed to go to school in order to find good jobs someday.

Abdillahi never uttered a single complaint the entire time I visited with him. He could have easily told me all the “unfortunately” circumstances he’d endured. Instead, Abdillahi talked about how “fortunate” he was … he had enough food, water and he was grateful for World Vision coming to visit him.

I walked away from Abdillahi learning a lesson: fortunately, children like Abdillahi are able to maintain a sense of optimism and hope even in the most dire of circumstances. And, fortunately, God allowed our paths to cross so I could tell his story.

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