Four days have flown by already on #MCJourney2016, but somehow we’ve seen and heard more than words can summarize. We as a group have been talking about our experience so far, and we all relate to the beautifully frustrating struggle to communicate to our loved ones about this trip. Translating this mix of joy, despair, gratitude, conviction, grace, and overwhelming hope into words is no easy task.
I have to be the first to apologize to my friends and family for inadequately describing the nature of our journey as a whole. When asked in casual conversation why I was heading to Africa with the Mocha Club, I’d often say a quick response like, “To continue work with ongoing service projects” or simply, “With a non-profit.” Let me be so clear: this is no mission or volunteer trip. This journey is more like a learning trip or a listening trip; a let-me-know-your-story-so-I-can-genuinely-love-you-well trip. We joked today that it should be called a RelationTrip because that really is our whole goal.
We are here to create and sustain relationships with African organizations who work within and through community members. We are here to listen to them tell us their greatest needs, and to hear directly from them about how to meet them in ways they know will best for the community. The “work” the Mocha Club has led us to do here exemplifies a quote I recently heard from Alexander Shaia: “Service is really going out with open hands and realizing that we’re standing in the presence of a magnificent other who is going to teach us.” Boy, we have learned so much in these four days.
As a Mocha Club member, I had heard of each of the projects we would be visiting but I knew little about the stories behind them. What a gift it has been to sit down with founders of organizations like New Dawn Educational Centre and Heritage Kenya Organization (HEKO) to hear them explain, from the very beginning, how their visions came to life here in Kenya.
We spent yesterday afternoon at HEKO in the Kibera slum. Kibera sits in the center of Nairobi where over 500,000 people live in extreme poverty with little to no access to food, water, education, or physical/mental health care. Founders Peter and Monica Odero, residents of Kibera, recognized a growing issue specifically surrounding women with HIV/AIDS as the disease became more prevalent in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Societal stigma left many of these women abandoned by their husbands and completely shut out from family members who viewed HIV/AIDS as a (often inaccurate) reflection of immoral behavior or infidelity. Their homes were taken away, and these women were left with no way to feed their families or care for themselves.
HEKO exists today to provide women with HIV/AIDS access to counseling to cope with their circumstances, nutritional education to ensure their medications work effectively, and physical activity to foster a community who moves and finds joy together. HEKO’s overall focus is to empower women with HIV/AIDS as they learn new skills to create products through which they earn a sustainable living.
Listening to each woman’s story served as evidence of a yet another miracle in an unlikely place. Women receiving support through HEKO have seen major health improvements and some have even watched their children graduate from college. They have found light in dark circumstances, and community when they were once neglected and alone. And to think, this history of redemption all began when Peter and Monica chose to fight for a group of women who’d been told they were irredeemable.
Our time at HEKO was beautiful because it allowed us to peek into the darker corners of the lives of these women, particularly those who are afraid to share their diagnosis with neighbors and friends. But it also convicted me and begged to me to consider: Who am I overlooking? Whose gaze do I struggle to meet because I don’t “feel comfortable” loving them? Instinctively, I want to wave my angry finger the families of these women — the relatives who left them with nothing — and tell them, “How dare you? How could you forget them?” But in truth, I have blindspots too. I’ll admit I have a hard time looking at the man on the corner with a handmade sign as he asks for help. I am fully aware of the thousands of people struggling to survive in my own community, and yet I carry on as if they’re not there. So many women in Kibera have a life and a hope because someone chose to seem them. What if we also made an effort to see those people and places we’ve kept behind our self-constructed walls?
If you have been moved by the work Peter and Monica Odero do through HEKO, you can contribute to their efforts today. Like right now! Peter assured us yesterday that the small sacrifice of one cup of coffee most certainly improves the lives of these women. More than this, when we empower one woman, we also guarantee a future for her children and we encourage growth throughout all of Kibera.
To learn more about how you can support this cause and many others, head to: http://www.themochaclub.org/journey