The posts until Saturday, January 9, will be in response to Mary Jaksch's questions on Goodlife Zen, 11 Questions that lead to Gratitude. Please visit the site and subscribe for daily inspiration.
9.What inspired you?
My sister, Kelli, without a doubt.
She’s a working mom, with two kids in college and one still in high school. Her kids have always been involved in a myriad of activities from politics and baseball to dance and football to cheerleading and basketball. Yet she can always be found serving the poor.
I remember her as a young lady, making food and taking it around to the homeless people in our town. Later, when her kids were in school, she heard teachers talking about children who went out to recess with no mittens, hats, or even socks during the frigid Iowa winters. One teacher that really touched Kelli’s heart told her of a child whose coat was held together with bread wrapper twisty ties. Like most people, Kelli nearly cried when hearing these stories.
Unlike most people, Kelli began a drive called Warm Hearts, Warm Hands and collected coats, mittens and scarves. She took the items to local schools for the teachers to give out to children in need.
Kelli also saw a feature in the local newspaper that plugged a nearby charity dedicated to serving the people of Tanzania. A surgeon and other doctors and dentists headed the group who went to Tanzania at least once a year to perform much needed surgeries (usually in hospitals with dirt floors) for free. They were looking for volunteers to help. Kelli’s heart was touched once again, and she served with the group for many years, her focus being on the orphans of Tanzania.
When the local group could not focus as much on the orphans as Kelli needed, she simply started her own charity, now called Project Rehema.
In a recent plea for help, Kelli said, “I have been involved in mission work in Tanzania, East Africa for the past 13 years. I was involved with another non-profit organization doing this until 3 years ago I started my own 501 c 3 not for profit organization called Project Rehema.
"Project Rehema is named after a sweet little 8 yr. old girl named Rehema Ntandu who I met in the summer of 2003. She was kicked out of orphanage after orphanage because she had HIV, passed onto her by her mother. In the short 3 week time period I was there in 2003, she was in 3 different orphanages because nobody wanted her there. By the time she finally got to an orphanage that did accept children with HIV, it was too late. Rehema died shortly after. We decided to name our project after her because she is truly an inspiration. Ironically enough her name in Swahili means “compassion” and that's what our project is all about.
"Unfortunately, there are 2.5 MILLION orphans in Tanzania alone. Project Rehema's goal is to get away from the institutionalizing of these kids and have a more "home like" setting. I am proud to say we have 9 VERY MODEST homes now where we have "mama's" caring for several orphans in each home. We provide their food every month and medical assistance. I took a step in faith this past June 2009 while on my 10th trip to Tanzania in committing to take on our 8th and 9th family.
"Mama Elisiana is caring for 5 orphaned children, some of whom were abandoned and others whose parents where eaten by wild animals. Mama Safina is caring for 3 orphans who lost both of their parents to AIDS.
"It broke my heart to hear their stories. They are nothing short of simply amazing. Life and death is such a part of life there. In talking with a young man named Adam, who has been an orphan since he was about 7, I asked Adam what was one of the scariest things that ever happened to him and he proceeded to tell me about the day when he was 7 and he had to walk for miles to go cut down sugar cane to sell. A python chased him. Keep in mind; pythons are well known for eating VERY large animals like antelope etc. as well as humans. Then he said, 'But Mama Kelli, I figured out if I ran on the gravel road instead of the grass, the python couldn't go as fast.”' What a life skill for a 7 year old to learn.
“I am currently looking for people or organizations to sponsor a child for food for $30 per month. I am begging you to share this with everyone you know because we are in need of finding sponsors so we can continue our mission of saving truly the neediest of the needy. While I realize we have "poor" people here in our own community, poor here and poor there are completely different levels. Trust me on this. There is no comparison. It's all about taking the opportunities we see to help others.
“Here is a link to our website. It is still under construction but you can at least get some basic information. www.projectrehema.org There is a “donate” button under our ‘how you can help’ button.”
What Kelli didn’t mention is that she and another working mom, went ALONE to Tanzania to get these homes set up. There are many dangers in such travel, that I am not at liberty to discuss. She also didn’t mention that people who still believe in the practices of local witch doctors sometimes threaten the lives of the “mamas”. The witch doctors need “blood” or other “necessities” from the young children in order to manufacture their potions. The mamas risk their lives to protect the young children in their care.
What inspired YOU this year?