Esther – One woman’s story among empowered lives

December 10, 2013 by Diana Coombs

By DiAnne Drachand (ELI Ambassador)

From left to right: Mary, Penina, DiAnne and Esther

From left to right: Mary, Penina, DiAnne and Esther

In our busy holiday activities, I thought you might just want to take a moment to look closely into the lives of some women I met in Kenya. Empowering Lives International is doing an amazing job of transforming lives. Here is a peek into a world we can only imagine. Join me while I give thanks for those who are doing the work on the front lines.

Upon our arrival in Ilula, Kenya we were greeted by the sight of about 90 women – some young with babies on their backs, some old with wrinkled faces, many with colorful bandannas on their heads. They filed into the training room amid the sound of scraping plastic chairs over the mud-spotted floors due to days of rain. I slipped into the back of the room as their attention was drawn back to the animated teacher of the day. I did not understand the language, but I could tell these women (and three men) were giving him rapt attention. Their futures depended on what was to happen over the next few days. 

During a break, I had opportunity to speak to two of the women, Penina, and Esther. Esther is one year younger than me, but looked ten years older. She is the mother of four and found that brewing alcohol (like all these other ladies) seemed her only option to provide for her family. As this destructive cycle goes, her husband was an alcoholic, something poverty and hopelessness often foster. Esther told us that her husband did not help provide for them. In fact, he had kicked them out of their home. She actually was sent running into the bush. Her attempt to run to her neighbor’s resulted in putting them in danger as well. The worst was when, in a drunken rage, he set their house on fire and stood out front brandishing a huge knife threatening anyone who tried to put the fire out. She and the children hid until she was able to reach a relative who helped them.

As dreadful as this sounds, it is not unlike many stories shared in the first days of the training. I had such a deep respect for the manner in which these trainings are presented. They don’t say, “Come in and we’ll tell you how to fix your life in three easy steps.” They begin filling in a hanging poster paper with the women’s responses to two basic questions: Why are you here (what do you want?) and What do you have? The women begin sharing their situations and their desperate need to find alternatives. Their similar experiences of having police come and destroy their brewing equipment or arresting them and tossing them in jail began to bond the women together. Their stories of the dangers of dealing with raging alcoholics, paying bribes which cost them their profits, or being mistreated bonded these women with tears shed as they listened to one story after another that reflected their own lives.

The responses to the questions were written down: “We want alternative ways to earn a living”, “We want change in our lives”, “We need hope”, “We need God”. And that’s where it begins. The training doesn’t begin with how to raise chickens, but the message that they are created in God’s own image and they have value, they are loved and have a purpose, they are strong, they have a community in which they can encourage and support one another. It begins first with a deep desire and commitment to give their lives to God and to allow Him to show them new ways of compassion and working together for the good of one another. Here some amazing things happened. They are willing to risk giving up their only current means of income – this is big risk. Women contacted family members to pour out the alcohol they were saving as security in case this training fails. They are ready to move in a huge step of faith!

Once that point of desire and commitment is reached, then they deal with the second question, “What do you have?” My level of respect goes up another notch by not leaping in with solutions, but allowing them to discover how to utilize and maximize what they already have with new knowledge. One woman says she has a little land, another has a few chickens, etc.

THEN a series of master teachers begin demonstrating simple strategies, knowledge that can transform what they have into what they need (income). The faces change! The lights go on, “I can do this!” The next days are full of ways to fool chickens into incubating more chicks, tripling the yield in a small garden space, growing trees, money saving ideas, baking bread for a business, and even broader business strategies for forming cooperatives and applying for loans. They are thinking differently, not just how to keep from starving, by how to plan for the future. The women are amazed, excited, and develop a team mentality for shared responsibility and encouragement.

Nearing the end of the week an important thing takes place. Representatives from the local police, and the government come in. I was blown away when one bold woman rises to speak and says to the police, “We run from you in fear you will destroy us. We are only trying to feed our families.” The police acknowledged that they also want these women to succeed with legal activities. Unbelievably, we hear them say they forgive each other and are ready to move forward in ways that support a healthier community.

On the last night of the class before they receive their certificates, there is a time of prayer. I was blessed to be a part of this night. Women shared their needs, their concerns, their fears, their hopes. How humbling it is to pray for women whose lives I can never really understand. I was truly out of my element and asked God to allow me to pray in honest and meaningful ways. Because of the language difficulties (and even inability to hear clearly in a room echoing the murmurs of 100 people), I decide just to go around the circle of 25 people and pray for each one as I was led.

At first I just prayed for courage and strength, for commitment and general things. As I continued around the circle, standing behind each person with my hands on their shoulders, I began to get a sense that one woman needed to hear that she is loved, another that she is not alone, another that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. I could feel their shoulders melt as I touched them wondering how often they might have been tenderly touched or hugged.

One young beautiful woman confessed to me with tears in her eyes that she is afraid that she might fail. I only said that our God is a God of many chances and our strength comes from His great resources rather than our own. Sometimes when I don’t know what to pray, I sing. After completing personal prayers for each woman, I started softly singing Jesus Loves Me – so simple. So needed. And I was surprised to know they knew it. I then sang Spirit of the Living God (Fall afresh on me). We were quiet, seeming to just rest in God’s presence. Then I asked if they knew a song. One woman began an African call-and-response song which was soon joined by the circle of voices. Before you know it, a couple of the “gogos” (grandmothers) entered the circle and soon their faces changed to hopeful, toothy, joyful smiles. And then it spread to the other circles and the room erupted in loud singing of praises that I shall never forget.

So what do we do now? Their hard work begins. Our job is to pray and to lend support for more life-changing trainings and follow-up support. But you need to know about our next week’s follow-up on the first group of 42 women who completed the training the month before.  Read that story next. God is surely at work.

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