Conversation flows easily within our team. There’s been much connection, deep belly laughter & high fives this week. There’ve been tears & tender moments and times when we’ve rallied around each other and carried each others burdens. These last several days have been one of the most profound times in community i’ve ever witnessed.
Tonight around the dinner table the question was asked, if you could meet anyone you’ve admired who would it be & why.
Jennifer has a sweet soft voice. Her freckles and precious grin make her easily appear half her age. Her answer, Harriet Tubman.
Then one of the members of our team said that Jennifer had inspired her so profoundly on this trip. We began to chime in how much we’d been moved & inspired by her genuine love for the people here…for the women of the co-op group she birthed …for the many, many women in which she instills hope….for the manager at the marketplace who is clearly delighted to see her return…to the wealthy American executive living now in Rwanda building relationships & creating economic opportunity…everyone she comes in contact with, she shows a love so genuine its truly remarkable.
I saw her face completely light up as he caught her attention from across the street. Their embrace was so powerful & yet so very tender. They held hands as they caught up. She clearly was so proud of him. And he was so proud to catch her up to par with what’s been going on in his life since their last visit—a year ago.
Gilbert ( pronounced gil-bear) a handsome 15 year old young man. Jen,the founder of the noonday sewing co-op here in Rwanda. She’s petite & seemingly unaware of her girl next door beauty.
With school books in hand, Gilbert has dropped by the co-op to say hello to his friend, Jen. Gilbert’s mama, Anastasia works at the sewing co-op & earns enough money to pay for her children’s education. If you were to ask one of the many children or teenagers who are playing in the streets during the middle of the day what their dream is. School would be their answer. So yes, Gilbert’s mother does indeed earn enough money to pay for school, but the women that work at the co-op here in Rwanda are thriving….they are making MORE than a living wage!!! Their marriages are stronger. “My husband has returned to us now that I am making money. He is a nicer man now. We are now living in harmony.” These women are providing for their extended families. Empowerment is life giving on so many levels!!!
I’ve been given permission to tell you this story. Gilbert wants you to know his story.
Gilbert was one of Jennifer’s neighbors. He was one of the many children that would come & play outside her home. At that time neither of his parents had work. Dad was in the picture, but not a nice man. Gilbert, probably 10 at the time, perhaps even younger, would carry large pots of boiled corn & water –on his head-to make money for his family.
The first time Jen met his mama, Anastasia, she was carrying a 10 foot log—on her head—in an effort to make money for their family. Sadly, much of which was going to dad’s alcohol.
Jen began with a group of four women in her community, one of whom was Anastasia, to create a potential way for the women to earn a living. She discussed with them the possibility of a sewing school. Jen told us today, “these women you are working with at the co-op this week, they are different women than they were three years ago, so different.” She smiles.
In Anastasia’s case, as I said before, she is now able to support her family. Her sons are in school. “They are good boys”, she says. Her husband is no longer abusive to her and the boys as she is no longer as vulnerable and seemingly powerless as before.
Before Noonday began to order from the co-op, the women would often ask Jen for help with financial problems & needs. Jen was so thrilled for them because this time upon her return, no one needed to ask Jen for money. They, not only are sustaining themselves, they were able to come together as a group & meet a recent need within the group and that gives them dignity.
So today, when Gilbert, books in hand & on his way home from school, comes to visit Jen, she wept in their embrace. I asked her later that day to explain a little back story to me. She so sweetly replied, struggling to find the best word… he represents so much of all the change in the group of women. From being the little guy who begged for food years ago to now thriving. He writes beautiful worship music and makes good marks in school. And the joy that’s on that young man’s face, is truly remarkable.
Before we left that afternoon, Gilbert lead the group as they danced and sang. One of plethora moments forever in my heart.
I emailed Dan before turning in last night. I told him I wished so badly our family could take a trip such a this. It would surely change our loves.
I intended to say lives. but yet changing the way we love is actually exactly what in turn changes lives. I want to change how I love…..thank you Africa for reminding me that in a lifetime of ways. I have much to ponder on this. and in my heart & in my mind I feel like I’ve seen and experienced immeasurably much. so we’ll come back to this…we will.
couple of random house keeping things~~ first, we only have wifi about two hours a day. I wrote this post in word document while waiting four hours for my wordpress to pull up. hence the rare capitalization.
second, I turned on temporary comment moderation for a couple reasons. I simply can not answer questions while I’m here but for those whose questions I’m even equipped to answer, I will try to respond from the states. Just a friendly reminder, there is a FAQ section on Noonday’s site that will answer many of these for you. Our team would love for you to understand the focus and the heart of why were are here.