When I first told people that I was traveling to Sierra Leone, some of their first thoughts were: “You mean where they have blood diamonds?” “The place with child soldiers?” and “Isn’t that where Ebola is?” Media’s representation of this country has not been very favorable to say the least. It is true, all of these things have occurred in this country, which is only the size of South Carolina.
These terrible things, while they should not be the only things that define this beautiful and friendly country, have still left their scars. Those who are most affected by these scars are the marginalized, who include women and the disabled. I was able to see first hand how Women of Hope International (WOHInt) has served to not only prevent women with disabilities from feeling the full effects of poverty, but is giving them something far more valuable: empowerment through Christ.
Where other organizations focus only on material needs, Women of Hope’s goals are less tangible, but ultimately life changing.
I caught a glimpse into this life changing hope which drives WOHInt as I was teaching a skills training class of mostly blind women in how to make beads and necklaces. One of those mornings it was pouring rain. It looked like my class was going to take the day off, however, one woman showed up… and then another, until everyone was there; dedicated and working hard to learn this skill. I got some one-on-one time with a woman everyone calls Auntie K. She is blind in one eye and visually-impaired in the other. I sat beside her and threaded her needle while she practiced sewing fabric onto a small paper bead.
After a bit of chit chat about the rain, she abruptly made a transition in conversation saying, “Thank you for doing this. Because of this class we can make products to sell, and because we can sell, we can eat.” She never lifted her one eye with minimal sight away from the bead as she said, “We are very poor and don’t have a steady way to feed ourselves. This way we can.”
Auntie K. said all of this in such a straightforward manner that it took me a moment to realize she was no longer speaking of weather, but of a matter of life or death. This is the reality of many of these women’s lives: they ebb and flow like the weather, and yet miraculously life goes on living…believing…sometimes thriving.
In my short time in Sierra Leone, I saw many testaments of resiliency beyond what should be necessary. It seems easy to lose heart looking at the mountainous obstacles that face these women, and it’s seemingly hopeless when you look at their past struggles. However Christ told us to not lose hope even as He approached his death. Let us not fear that hope has been scarred amongst these women, but rather let us rejoice in the potential being realized against all odds!