I know many warrior moms . . . women who have had to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles as they seek the best for their kids. I know moms who fight for services for their special needs children or advocate for research for childhood illnesses. I know moms who work multiple jobs to make ends meet, and who make great sacrifices to ensure their family’s well-being. I’ve been astounded by the strength of the mothers I have met this week with Help One Now. We have visited with several families in the Gunchire region who are a part of their unique sponsorship program designed to prevent poverty orphans. These are mothers who were at the end of their rope . . . who faced the difficult possibility of having to take their child to an orphanage in order to help them survive. I met Birkenesh and Saiga and Marta and Seada Nesa, who shared their stories of survival with us. They were eager to tell of how their lives had been changed. So eager, in fact, that Saiga came running to find us on the road, greeting each of us with a bear hug and showering us with kisses as she led us to her home. Their narratives were so similar and unfortunately all too common in this region. They had all been widowed . . . most of them losing their husband to AIDS and dealing with their own HIV+ status. In addition to dealing with the loss of a husband – a life-shattering blow by itself, they then had to face being ostracized by their own community. There is still a huge social stigma in regards to HIV, and these mothers and their children were shunned in their darkest hour. As they’ve lost their spouse and community in one fell swoop, they also found themselves in a precarious economic crisis, with no job and no way to earn money. They each described a painful season in which their survival hung in the balance . . . often going days without food, and wondering how to feed their children. Some of them made the difficult decision to take their kids to a nearby orphanage. All of them felt great despair. As we listened, it was hard to even fathom facing such great obstacles. We told the women they were brave, and we meant it. We also fought back tears as we contemplated the love and pain and loss these women have experienced. But their was some redemption to their stories. Each of them shared the difference that Help One Now has made in their lives. They are now able to feed their children . . . every meal. Marta is opening a shop in her home. Saiga is selling vegetables. Seada Nesa received training and now sells traditional clothing at a nearby market. All of the women received agricultural training and assistant with planting their own farm, as well as livestock, and each of them showed off their garden and cows as we visited. We also got to meet the children of these brave women, and see the strong bonds shared between this moms and their kids. All of these children were at risk of being orphaned, by either poverty or death. Now, these moms are receiving the medications they need to survive and thrive, and the community is receiving education to reduce the stigma around HIV. Through the help of sponsorship these families are intact and the kids are benefitting from the love and attention of their mothers, instead of growing up in an orphanage. They are also receiving an education to ensure a brighter future. $42 a month can be the difference between surviving and thriving for families in Ethiopia. Sponsorship provides daily food, school fees, uniforms and supplies, and medical resources for the entire family. It also helps develop the family economically: teaching modern farming techniques (most Ethiopians have extraordinarily large lots which can be entirely cultivated for food), providing cows, goats, and chickens and the training to raise and resource them, identifying existing gifts, skills, and assets of the parents to harness into income-producing outlets, and equip the HIV+ parents to address and overcome social stigma and regain solid footing in their community. I was so moved by the warrior moms we met. Their before-and-after stories were dramatic, and each of them were so grateful and also eager for other women to experience this assistance. My hope, as you are reading this, is that you will be moved to partner with another family, to keep them together. This is life-saving work, and such a small sacrifice for those of us living in privilege to provide to women who are struggling to survive. Please click here to sponsor a family. Photos by Ty Clark, Jacob Combs, and Scott Wade.
That’s what SHE said: #lovehope Ethiopia edition with Jen Hatmaker, Korie Robertson, and Jillian Lauren.
I’m in Ethiopia this week with Help One Now, hearing stories of how their work is preventing the tragedy of poverty orphans. I thought that for this week’s picks, I would share some of the writing of the other women on this trip. I hope you will take the time to click through and read their essays. It’s powerful and heartbreaking, and yet there is redemption. Love Hope | Jillian Lauren Our adoption gave us more than the family we were longing for; it also allowed us to experience our interconnectedness with people halfway around the globe, the permeability of the membranes between our lives. Since then, Scott and I have been trying to finagle a return trip. We often wonder- what can we do to work toward a world in which children are not orphaned by poverty? The answers are not always easy. Like a lot of people, we are sometimes overwhelmed and confused by the choices. How can we do the most good in a conscious and respectful way? Is there something we can do beyond writing a check? Is there some greater understanding we can gain, some more immediate action we can take? 10-Year-Olds Should Not Be Day Laborers | Jen Hatmaker When her children were chosen to be sponsored by Help One Now, she was dying. Her children were considered the most vulnerable. She is HIV Positive and was very sick at the time. She didn’t have access to the important Anti-Retro Viral medication that can make an HIV patient healthy again. Her family, which consisted of herself and her six children, had no cow or chicken or garden to sustain them. She was too sick to have a job – where would she find one anyway? She was forced to leave two of her children at an orphanage because they were sick as well, and she had no way to care for them. A Story Of Opportunity, Restoration, Triumph And Hope | Korie Robertson When her children were chosen to be sponsored by Help One Now, she was dying. Her children were considered the most vulnerable. She is HIV Positive and was very sick at the time. She didn’t have access to the important Anti-Retro Viral medication that can make an HIV patient healthy again. Her family, which consisted of herself and her six children, had no cow or chicken or garden to sustain them. She was too sick to have a job – where would she find one anyway? She was forced to leave two of her children at an orphanage because they were sick as well, and she had no way to care for them. The Road | Jillian Lauren I’m going to get really real with you here. I don’t often talk about T’s origins, or the reasons he came to be with us. Tariku is a poverty orphan. Which is to say, that without the pressures of extreme poverty, he wouldn’t have suffered the trauma of separation, malnutrition, pneumonia- all the things that made his eyes so scared when we met him, his little legs hanging beneath him like skinny, limp noodles. Your Money Can Help Or Hurt | Jen Hatmaker Initially, HON’s mission was laser-focused on double-orphaned children (both parents deceased), but last year local Haitian leader Jean-Alix asked Chris to consider sponsoring children living in impoverished Drouin with their parents. When Chris explained that HON only focused on orphaned children, Jean-Alix said, “Oh. Okay. Then just wait one year and most of these children will be orphaned.” Thus, orphaned and vulnerable children now make up the mission of HON. Both worthy. In some cases, we respond to tragedy. In other cases, we help prevent the tragedy. Either way, children destined for orphanhood, poverty, and family disruption are empowered toward family, education, and economic sustainability. Cyclical chains are broken and the next generation is raised up to lead strong. Again, Always: Ethiopia | Jillian Lauren The minute we walked off the plane in Addis Ababa this morning, the distinctive smell hit me- some mysterious mixture of frankincense, burning trash, eucalyptus, coffee, and bodies. It’s profoundly human and otherworldly at the same time and lets you know unmistakably that you are in Ethiopia- this glorious and complicated place. To read more about the trip and to sponsor a family, click here. You can also follow our hashtag on twitter and instagram at #lovehope. Photos by Ty Clark, Jacob Combs, and Scott Wade.
I’m in a hotel in Washington DC, about to get a couple hours of sleep before I fly to Ethiopia in the morning with Help One Now. I should be sleeping but I’m not . . . kept awake by a heady mix of excitement and nerves. Tonight our team assembled in the hotel lobby for a “quick meeting” that turned into a 3-hour conversation. There was laughter, there were a few tears, but mostly there was the buzz of being around people who share a similar passion. (photo by Ty Clark) At one point, our conversation turned to adoption. Jen Hatmaker, Korie Robertson, Jillian Lauren, and I have all adopted children, and Jillian was adopted herself, so we all have that in common. We talked about the joys and also some of the struggles of adoption, and agreed that one thing we would like to see is an end to poverty orphans. While adoption will continue to be a permanency option for some children, we all believe that poverty should not be a sole reason for parents to have to relinquish their children. Mike Rush, from Pure Charity, also adopted from Ethiopia. He had the chance to visit the community we are focused on back in January, as they were doing interviews with some of the families we’re recruiting donors to support. He said that it was incredibly emotional to sit with these families, as he thought about his own daughter and her birth family and what might have been. This is what drives us to do this . . . we feel incredibly blessed by our children through adoption, but we ultimately want to reduce the number of children who are orphaned in the first place. Orphan prevention first, adoption as last resort. Family preservation is the first step in orphan care.
(photo by Jen Hatmaker) My heart beats strong to see children who need them find a forever family, but my heart also beats for kids to stay with the birth family if possible. This trip is about preventing orphans and strengthening families, and I’m excited to learn and show how Help One Now is doing this work. To read more about the trip and to sponsor a family, click here. You can also follow our hashtag on twitter and instagram at #lovehope.