It’s stories like this, and men like Mohamed Bzeek, who remind us that there is far more good in the world than bad. At a time when there is increasing geo-political strife around the world and here in the US, what this heroic man is doing gives us hope that humanity and love will always win over negativity.
Mohamed is a foster parent in Los Angeles County, but stands in a league of his own. Literally. For the past few decades, he has been choosing to only take in terminally ill children, and is reportedly the only person in LA County to be doing this.
Los Angeles County has the highest number of children in the foster care system, more than any other city in the United States. Close to 30,000 children are currently in the system, and across the country, there are close to half a million children in foster care. In Los Angeles County, the number of children entering the system has increased, while the number of households willing to take in these vulnerable children has decreased over the past decade.
In his recent testimony before the US Senate about his company’s work to combat child sex trafficking via the internet, actor and entrepreneur Ashton Kutcher shared some startling statistics about kids in foster care, which frankly don’t get talked about enough in the conversation about vulnerable people or caring for children.
He said foster care has become a key pipeline for the trafficking trade.
“There are 500,ooo kids in foster care today…70% of the prison inmates in this country have touched the foster care system, and 80% of the people on death row were at some point in time exposed to the foster care system. 50% of these kids will not graduate high school and 95% of them will not get a college degree…Foster children are 4 times more likely to be exposed to sexual abuse. That’s a breeding ground for trafficking,” he said.
A Los Angeles-based organization called the Alliance of Moms, whose mission it is to advocate for teen mothers who come from the foster system and break that cycle, report that more than a quarter of girls in foster care become mothers by the age of 17. 40% of these young mothers have a second child in their teenage years. 66% of their babies will become teen mothers themselves. Every single one of these numbers should be a sobering moment for society to come together and help fix this system in order to serve the next generation. Sadly, we are not there yet.
Which makes what Mohamed is doing all the more important. He originally came to the US as an immigrant from Libya, and came to compete in marathons and study engineering. He eventually met his wife in the US, became a citizen in 1997, and they had a son, Adam, together. Adam is disabled and needs round the clock care. Mohamed’s wife passed away in 2015, but he continues to open his heart and home to terminally ill children.
His story has recently been featured in the LA Times, ABC News, NPR, PBS, and even in the UK. Although he has been living without the spotlight of international media for decades, dedicating his life to the children he takes in, since his story became public, a GoFundMe page was set up to support him financially. At the time of writing this article, over $300,000 has been donated by people who have been so touched by his efforts, and who want to make sure he has the best equipment in his home to take care of the children.
They are the kids that no one else is willing to take because they don’t have a long life expectancy. Mohamed is currently caring for a young girl who has microcephaly, which means she was born without her brain developing fully. She cannot hear or see, but in the video below, Mohamed explains that she responds only to touch.
In a special report for PBS Newshour, journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon explains the heartbreaking situation Mohamed has often found himself in with the children he fosters.
“Over almost three decades, he and his wife cared for scores of children. Ten have died in his care. Most of the children he’s taken recently are born with terminal illnesses. Sometimes, they are abandoned or born to parents with drug addiction. Once they enter the foster care system, the county works to connect them with foster parents like Mohamed. The memories of the children, he says, still live with him every day,” she said.
In our current national political climate, there is a lot of focus on healthcare policies, defunding organizations like Planned Parenthood and preventing aid organizations from even talking about, let alone offering, safe and regulated abortion services, and a heavy “pro life” stance from certain conservative lawmakers. Yet where are all the pro life rallies, policies and advocacy for the foster care children who are caught in a system that has become extremely complex and in some cases very broken?
Recently Donald Trump unveiled his “Muslim Ban”, which targets 6 countries (originally it was 7, then Iraq was taken off the list after his executive order was successfully struck down in a federal court), prohibiting immigration and refugees. The first iteration of the order prioritized Christian people only, which has since been changed. So it should be noted that Libya, Mohamed’s home country, was on that list, and that Mohamed is a devout Muslim who counts his faith as a driving force behind looking after terminally ill children.
What does it say about our political climate when we demonize and stereotype certain people groups, painting them as a monolithic, scary, horrible mass? When we get away from the hysteria and fear-mongering, we get to read about incredible individuals like Mohamed Bzeek who literally defies every single negative comment Donald Trump and his administration have made about the Muslim population, as well as immigrants and refugees.
“You know, I feel sad. But, in my opinion, we should help each other, you know?…As a Muslim, I don’t hate nobody. I love everybody. I respect everybody,” said Mohamed to PBS when asked why he chooses to foster the terminally ill children, despite it being a heartbreaking task.
We need more people like Mohamed across this country. Late in 2016 he was diagnosed in colon cancer, had surgery in December but his treatment is ongoing. Yet he refuses to put a hold on looking after his children because he knows there is no one else to do it.
“I mean, these kids need — need somebody…Even though my heart is breaking. To me, death is part of life. And I’m glad that I help these kids go through this period of his time, you know? And I help him. I be with him. I comfort him. I love him or her. And until he pass away, I am with him and make him feel he has a family and he has somebody who cares about him and loves him,” he told PBS.
If you want to donate to Mohamed’s cause, visit the GoFundMe page. If you are inspired by what he is doing, and angry at the statistics and the lack of people stepping up to help our vulnerable children, contact your state’s Department of Social Services, or your local Department of Children and Family Services(DCFS). If you are unable to become a foster parent but want to be involved, you can become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for foster children who are currently in a court case, and who need a an adult advocate who can be their mentor, encourager, or advocate in what is often a very traumatic and complex time.