Reyna with the kids in Fiamah, Monrovia, Liberia

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Small Act...Has a Huge Effect!

Recently I was privileged to attend a showing of the documentary A Small Act( at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival here in Chicago with some friends. This documentary focuses on the journey of one man, Chris Mburu, as he seeks to give sponsorship and hope to needy and bright students in the villages of Kenya. Chris himself was sponsored for years as a student by a Jewish refugee living in Sweden, Hilde Back. Hilde's sponsorship was a small sacrifice for her-she just sent a check for $15 monthly to an organization sponsoring students in Kenya. But for Chris, he felt as if Hilde was an angel who was giving him an opportunity he might never have had otherwise.
Chris made the most of that opportunity, going on to university and then eventually on to Harvard. He began working in a high-profile position for the UN as a human-rights lawyer. He had a huge passion, though, to give the brightest of Kenya's young students a chance at secondary school and an opportunity to improve their situation in life and that of their families. Kenya is one of the few African countries that has free compulsory primary education. Secondary education, though, remains a privilege for only those fortunate families who can afford to send their child to school. In the documentary, you follow the progress of the foundation as they seek to select students to help and you follow the journeys of 3 students in particular as they explain their dreams of being able to continue in school and improve their lives.
What stuck with me about this documentary was what is at stake for these children in continuing to get an education, especially for the young girls. It reminded me very much of the plight of the students in Liberia that have captured my heart. For the young girls, if they are not given the chance to continue in secondary school, the chances of them getting pregnant and starting their families in their early teens increase considerably. The dreams that these children have for their future will likely be replaced by the harsh realities of poverty, taking care of family members by working at a young age, raising their children and continuing that cycle of living on less than a dollar a day. Opportunities for education help break this cycle, and if done in the right way, the schools can also serve as community centers that can help empower the whole family so that the children can stay in school and the family can still provide for themselves. Education also combats ignorance and powerlessness in a society, and when the young people are empowered through knowledge and opportunity, they will not be prey to the ideologies of warlords and corrupt politicians. This is one reason why the current president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, often speaks about education as the key to rebuilding their society and ensuring that history does not repeat itself.
The other thing that struck me is how such a small act can change a child's and a family's life forever. For Americans, $25 a month might be what we spend on a weeknight dinner out, or in buying a new outfit for ourselves. If we instead spend that $25 a month on supporting a student so they can continue to receive their education, we will never miss it but that $25 will change their life. Maybe I should say that again. We will never miss it, but it will change their life!
As most of you know, Doors of Hope Educational Foundation was formed with the hope of giving this type of sponsorship to needy children in Liberia. In Liberia, there is no free education. Schools are largely run by churches, which presents a unique opportunity for reaching children, their families, and by extension the whole community with the Gospel and love of Jesus. We have the privilege of partnering with two Christian organizations through sponsorship. One is Cornerstone Academy, a small Christian school in the neighborhood of Fiamah in the capital city of Monrovia. This school was started by Pastor Prosper Nopolu and his wife Martha because they were burdened by the number of kids they saw in their community who were selling things in the market or working at such a young age to help support their families. He began going door to door and telling the parents, "We are opening a school and your child can come for free. We just want them to be in school and learning." The school currently has about 35 students at the close of its second year of operation. They had 55 students at one point, but many left because the school just couldn't support them. There are 4 teachers along with the headmaster Pastor Prosper, and the teachers are supposed to receive a salary of $20 or $30 USD a month, which amounts to a little less than a dollar a day. This is a travesty, especially considering that they work just as hard, if not harder, as teachers here in the States. They make up all their own lessons, as they have no curriculum and no textbooks. Well, they WILL have textbooks and some teacher training materials for the next school year because Humboldt Community Christian School here in Chicago graciously donated a ton of books and supplies!!!
I met another pastor in Monrovia, though, who along with being a pastor, student at seminary, and overseer of a school, was working a part-time job at a factory(which is extremely difficult to find) just so that he could pay the teachers who labored at the school. This is the situation at Cornerstone as well. The resources are just very scarce, and so it is just a daily labor of love and sacrifice. Doors of Hope is starting small with 15 students we are seeking to sponsor, and also providing sponsorship for the 4 teachers. I am posting the pics of the kids here that need sponsors, but they are also on the Doors of Hope Facebook page and you can read more info there as well. My goal is to get all of these students and teachers sponsored by August 1st! This will make such a huge impact on this school and their ability to reach out to the community!! Please consider if you would be able to make this commitment and then DO IT!!

The other organization Doors of Hope is partnering with is Journeys Against Violence, which is a rehabilitation program for ex-child soldiers run by my spiritual brother Joshua Blayhi. Joshua has his own amazing story of how God transformed him from a tribal priest and rebel warlord who was responsible for the deaths of many innocent people to a sold-out servant of Christ who is now taking these young men who used to fight for him in and teaching them about Christ and also giving them the skills to rebuild their lives and get back into society. Kind of sounds like Paul, huh?? There are currently 12 young men, ex-fighters, who live at the JAV compound outside the capital city of Monrovia. These young men, in their late teens and early 20's, have mostly been rejected by their families and abandoned by society for the terrible things they have done. But Joshua knows better than most that God is able to redeem them and turn their lives into something useful and beautiful for His glory. When I spoke with these men, they all expressed a desire to me to finish school. With sponsorship, these young men would have their daily needs of food, clothing, transportation met and also this would provide for a teacher to come to them and provide them with alternative educational training. Again, $25 a month is a small amount to us, but to them it creates opportunities for a whole new world. Please consider if you would be able to make this commitment, to sponsor one of these 12 young men. Be aware, though, that this means entering into a relationship with this young man, encouraging him, mentoring him through letters, and it should not be taken lightly because these young men desperately need people they can depend on and look up to. Again, I would like to see all 12 of these young men fully sponsored by August 1st!! Until I have arranged sponsorship for all these guys, I cannot give their individual names and stories just because it is very important that some not be favored over others. But WHEN they are all sponsored, then you will have the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with them that will be life-changing for both of you!!
You can check out the details of sponsoring more specifically on the Doors of Hope Facebook page and our website which is almost ready!! When you make the decision to sponsor, contact me, Ruth Rivera, and I will send you all the details and info you need. Thank you for considering this and for being a huge part (through small acts) of extending God's love to our brothers and sisters in Liberia!!