Every day Gratefulness.org sends me a quote of the day. The first thing I do when I wake up is read this quote and I find that often it sets the tone for the day. This is the quote that was sent to me on Monday.
“However much concerned I was at the problem of misery in the world; I never let myself get lost in broodings over it. I always held firmly to the thought that each one of us can do a little to bring some portion of it to an end.” -Dr. Albert Schweitzer
When I read this quote I knew that Monday would be a very special day.
The night before, after an 8 hour bus ride from Nairobi, we arrived here in Kisumu, Kenya. I was just here in February launching the Chiga Water Project and now we are here again to see it completed and eventually bring water to over 30,000 people. On Monday morning we went to the garden to meet the Women Caregiver Group who are the stewards of this project. The minute that we drove up they started dancing and singing. I was relieved because I thought for sure they would be mad at us because it has taken so long to finish this project. Instead they were holding our hands and thanking us for returning.
The women lead us over to a grove of trees and started a community meeting . Anastasia Juma, the Director of our partner here in Kisumu, Our Lady of Perpetual Support (OLPS), welcomed us and made all the normal introductions and then she opened the floor for anyone to share with the group.
The first woman that stood up was a woman named Eunice. She told all of us that on Friday her house burned down and she lost everything except the clothes on her back. She is a widow but has four children who are 2, 4, 6 and 12 and now she is trying to figure out how to take care of them after they have lost everything. She said that she prays we can help her with a new home so that she can rebuild her life.
After she sat down another woman named Francesca stood up and said, “We have heard this woman. She is our sister. And we are a special group that takes care of each other. All of us need to go home and look at what we have and bring only those things that we love to help her.” All the women nodded in agreement. Then Anastasia started organizing. “Who of you can bring clothes for the 2 year old?” Hands went up. “Who of you will bring clothes for the 6 year old?” Hands went up again. How about dishes? Who will bring her dishes?” Again hands went up. Soon everyone had offered to bring some item of theirs to help Eunice start over. As the meeting came to a close it was decided that everyone would return on Wednesday with their items for Eunice.
I sat there with tears in my eyes. I was inspired by the courage of Eunice to share her problems with the group and ask for help and also moved by the willingness of all of the other women who are already struggling themselves and on average caring for eight children to give away the little they have to help her family. I was so happy to be surrounded by people that were ready to do whatever they could to ensure that a member of their community was not suffering.
Later Amy, Anastasia and I met to discuss the issue of the new house. It would be a simple mud and tin roofed home, which would cost about $500 to build. We asked Anastasia what she thought because we wanted to provide the funds to build the home but we do not normally help individuals, we focus on communities. Anastasia decided it was a priority to build the new home and since OLPS builds home for their people we would just give the money anonymously and she would tell Eunice that the community and OLPS came together to support her.
On Wednesday, the day the women were meeting to bring things to Eunice, I woke up and read this quote of the day. It said:
“Make a gift of your life and lift all…by being kind, considerate, forgiving, and compassionate at all times, in all places, and under all conditions, with everyone as well as yourself. This is the greatest gift anyone can give.
-David R. Hawkins
That afternoon we headed to the garden to meet the women. When we arrived the sky was darkening with rain clouds and the sound of thunder was in the distance. The women were under the trees dressed in Sunday’s best and they all were carrying their gift for Eunice in plastic bags. She sat in the middle of them all beaming.
One by one they came up to give their gifts to her. There were clothes for all the children, shoes, pots, dishes, bedding, food and even money. The minute the gifts were finished being given out the gray clouds opened above us and it started to pour. One of the women stated, “This rain is seen as a blessing but we must run home”. We all helped Eunice gather her gifts and then they all ran home laughing, singing and dancing in the pouring rain. As Eunice walked away proudly with all of her gifts on her head tucked away in a table cloth she had a new sense of ease about her. She grabbed my hand and told me, “God will always provide and here my friends will support me.”
I think of the images that are usually put out there of poor helpless Africans and then I think, “Where are these helpless Africans?” Every person I’ve met during my visits all over Africa are strong willed, driven and committed to taking care of their family and community with whatever skills they possess. I am constantly inspired by the way the community comes together to make sure everyone is cared for. It is something I wish was highlighted more by all organizations who work here. They have to also witness and see it as much as we do because it is impossible to miss. It is built into the fabric and culture of the African people. Later that night, Anastasia sums up this selfless giving perfectly with one of her own awe inspiring quotes. “Whatever little you have, you give. We must take care of those who are the neediest because they are us and we are them.”