It’s the “lack” that most gets me when mamas show up at Restore Elikia. Most often, they desperately love their children, but simply don’t have the resources they need to properly care for their kiddos. They are exhausted by the daily struggle to find clean water, to provide enough food to eat, to try and ensure their children are living in a safe and healthy home. Oftentimes, for years, they have given up their own portion of food to their children and didn’t take medicines when they were sick to be able to buy medicine for their children instead. And so, the mamas themselves are often in rough shape physically, emotionally, and spiritually, they are too sick and too tired to fight. Overwhelmed by life, the only option they see is placing their children in an orphanage. I can see it in their eyes and body language when they sit across from me – the weight of that decision, the grief, the fear, the resignation. It breaks my heart every time that a woman would have to feel this way. You see, it is also one of my greatest joys to tell these mamas there is another option to restore health and hope to their lives and their families at Restore Elikia.
Early on, we came to believe that preventing children with parents that could care for them from entering our orphanage at all should be one of our main focuses. It wasn’t an easy realization. When you make that decision, you can’t just superficially enter into these vulnerable families lives. You have to be willing to dive deep. To sit with them and listen. To feel their pain. To explore the roots of their problems and talk to them about what solutions they believe would bring change. To walk with them forward as partners in keeping their family together. To have successes and failures as we journey with them. It’s hard and heavy work, yet so worth doing.
One of the ways we partner with these mamas is through our vulnerable women’s training program at Restore Elikia. At risk women of all ages participate in training classes for several hours a day, three times a week for an entire year. We focus a lot on how they can keep themselves and their children healthy through basic hygiene measures, family planning with spacing of children to allow for appropriate length of breastfeeding before weaning, and how to maximize nutrition and diversify diet with limited resources. I absolutely love watching the children that join their moms as they participate in the program. At the beginning, they routinely sit quietly, almost sullenly on their mama’s laps, too tired and malnourished to play. By the end, as their health and their mama’s health improves, the kids are laughing, and running and playing! These classes also provide a community for these precious women and as they sit and learn and laugh together, you can see their emotional and spiritual strength being restored. Lives are changed.
We also provide basic job training skills during this program, including everything from sewing to how to manage a small business buying and selling items. On completion of the entire year, each woman receives a microfinance loan in order to be able to take what she has learned and make a new reality for her family. One of health and happiness. So far, we have had over 100 women graduate from this program and are so encouraged to hear their stories of redemption. Mama Holo recently said it best when I asked her how her new business was going, she replied, “Its so so good. You see, these past months have been the first ever where my family got to eat AND keep sending my kids to school. You see, before the Restore Elikia programs it was always OR. Buy clean water OR buy medicine for my sick child. Now life is starting to have more ANDS. For that, I am so thankful.”