January is always an exciting month for us here in Kenya. Schools open for a new school year and it’s a flurry of activity as textbooks are bought, uniforms are measured, and classrooms are prepared. Our Mtwapa school is up to 190 students – the biggest attendance to date! Many of the students are in our sponsorship program, and the other students receive very reduced tuition fees. It’s our goal to make education accessible and affordable to everyone, no matter their income level. Our school in Birikani opened for the first time with 90 students. Most of these kids have never gone to school, and it’s an amazing thing to watch them open their textbooks for the very first time. We are excited about what 2015 will bring, both in the schools, and in the families we serve.
Sitting on the hot concrete floor, a lazy fan is circling overhead and the only thought in my mind is how hard it is to hear everyone over the roar of the traffic below. It was just supposed to be a short visit to the clinic.
A quick stop on a busy ministry day. But somehow I find myself still sitting here, straining to listen as these women share their story. The office we’re crammed in, is located on the busiest road in town, a quickly growing town, known for it’s heat and it’s night life. A town that’s dirty and loud and with the buses below us blaring their music… it’s hard to concentrate above the noise.
Amongst the sounds, I hear my husband ask for the name of their group. Hers is a quick response, “I do not reject myself”. That’s nice, I think, but what is the group name? Every group here has a name.
“I do not reject myself”, the women begin repeating. “We are called, I Do Not Reject Myself”. The full impact of the statement hits me. Here sits a group rejected by their community, rejected because of the violent disease that courses through their bodies, rejected because of the stigma attached to their sickness, rejected from jobs and families, from communities and villages. These women who meet at this small HIV clinic proudly name themselves the opposite of what society tells them.
I Do Not Reject Myself.
We smile with tears in our eyes as we ask them to tell us more. They meet, they encourage, they gather together. And together learn how to fight their disease. They proudly unite and stand in the face of opposition. Together they prove that they are not among those who should be rejected.
We sit and listen to their stories and learn about the mighty women sitting in front of us. They describe their difficult search for food each day, as the stigma surrounding their disease prevents them from work. Many days the sickness wins, and they are unable to get out of bed. Despite their struggle the only prayers are for their children.
“Please help my children go to school, they need a better future”, one says to us. Another momma agrees, “I don’t want my girl to end up here, please help her go to school”. Around the circle they go, all believing for God to do a miracle.
There is nothing quite like looking a dying woman in the eyes, and hearing her deepest heart cry. And that truly is all it is, a cry. With no means of support, no income, no future, these women know their children have no chance of success. No chance to read, no chance to play, no chance to learn. I look at them, pillars of strength and my heart breaks for these women.
As I sit and listen, my heart is burdened to help. I can’t hear this and do nothing. But what can we do? We are leaving soon and we don’t work here. This isn’t our town. It’s not our country. It’s not our ministry.
But I hear God say, “You’re going to put their kids in school”.
We step outside into the hot, dusty air, my heart still torn and confused. We begin to walk away and I hear my husband whisper to me, “We’re going to put their kids in school”.