Redefining mzungu: Sandy’s story

Sandy Skorczewski - Imara International

By Joe Abe

Kenyans call Sandy Skorczewski “mzungu,” which simply means “white person” in Swahili. After learning more about Sandy, when I hear mzungu, I think about “perseverance.” In the third issue of Mjumbe Imara, I began to tell Sandy Skoczewski’s story. After interviewing her, she told me stories about her calling to Africa, life lessons, and adventures outside of Imara. It’s difficult to fit such an extraordinary experience into a short article in Mjumbe Imara, so allow me to elaborate.

The summer of 2009, Boy Scout Troop 570 caravanned out to the Beartooth Mountains of Montana. Why is this significant? It was on this trip that I spent a whole week hiking through the Montana wilderness at 9,000 feet elevation and 40 pounds on my back with Sandy and her son, Dylan. Up in the mountains, we carried everything with us: food, pots and pans, stoves, tents, sleeping bags, rain gear, and clean underwear. I remember hitting the first camp for the day and feeling exhausted, throwing my tent up, and passing out on my sleeping bag.

Sandy was in my hiking group and carried on with a quiet but unwavering perseverance. That was what I remembered most about her. Despite long days traversing rocky terrain, braving wind and rain and whiny Boy Scouts, Sandy did what she does best: persevere.

Perseverance is an integral part of Sandy’s identity. For over 15 years, she raised her two children, Dylan and Jake, as a single mom. On top of that, she was a big supporter of Dylan’s participation in Troop 570, driving him an hour every Monday night to meetings and getting involved in the Troop’s activities. Being an active scout parent is no easy feat. After Boy Scouts, another challenge knocked on her door.

Within a year after the Montana excursion, Sandy felt a call from God. “Kenya was put on my heart in May of 2010 and through multiple different ‘tugs’ on a daily basis,” she shared. Through Troop 570, Sandy got to know Lynn Abe (my mother), a fellow scout mom and a hearty supporter of a Kenyan organization called Imara International. After attending an Imara Gala and meeting Carol Erickson, the Executive Director, Sandy made the trek to Nanyuki to serve at Imara. Sandy said, “When I arrived there in September of 2013, I didn’t want to go back to the States. I was there two days, and I felt like I was supposed to stay.” And in April 2014, she did just that!

The perseverance that I witnessed in Montana among the rocks and the trees continues to manifest itself in Sandy on the other side of the world. Describing her desire to pass this on to the Imara girls, Sandy told me, “Bringing the single mom perspective to these kids was important to me. Surviving that challenge was something I wanted to help them learn.” As the only American-educated and experienced mother at Imara, Sandy is a bright example for those she looks after.

When I asked her about the life lessons she would take away from her experience in Kenya, Sandy told me about flexibility and taking life one step at a time. “You can have your planner scheduled or a list of simple things to do, but sometimes, you really just have to punt,” she said.

“Before coming here, I made sure my calendar was filled. Here, there are some days where that just doesn’t work. This dynamic has challenged me to be peaceful while having to be flexible.” She goes on to describe how to tackle life: “One step at a time. We should all do it, even if it is just getting in the car. To go anywhere, you have to take that first step.”

Sheer perseverance will get an individual far, but a part of that journey is learning to lean on God when the going gets tough.

“One of the opportunities I’ve had here was to travel to Kipsing, four hours away. I did that journey with Carol, one of the girls and two escorts. It was dry and hot, desert-like. Before we left (Kipsing), it had rained and we had to cross a big river coming back. The river was already two feet deep and the water was flowing by fast.

“As we approached the crossing, there were two women and a man with a warning, ‘If you don’t cross this river now, you won’t get home. There’s more rain coming.’ We crossed the river, adrenaline pumping. There were times during the crossing when we couldn’t tell what was safe and what was dangerous. After crossing, it poured rain and water came rushing down from the mountain into the river. After about seven hours, we made it back. That, to me, was God.”

From the mountains of Montana to the rivers of Kenya, Sandy Skorczewski allows no obstacle to bar her way. Even the challenge of running operations in Nanyuki does not stop her. Imara International is truly blessed to have a force of nature like Sandy to help blaze the trail to a brighter future, a future for the Imara girls, and a future for Kenya.

Containing our excitement!

Container arrives

By Carol Erickson, Executive Director
Imara International

We have containers!

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for Imara it is huge. We have been working on getting containers out to our new land for two years. Thanks to one of our Kenyan board members, Brian, they have arrived.  Aren’t they beautiful? There is hardly a scratch or dent on them. That is pretty much a miracle for a retired sea-going container!

These containers provide a safe, and secure spot for us to store supplies as we get our building project started.  It is a sign that we are getting very close to breaking ground for our first building in the Imara Village. For those of you who have walked with Imara from the beginning, you know that the building project has been slowly, but steadily moving forward.

We are excited to announce that if everything goes as planned, we will break ground in the beginning of November. You never know with Kenya, but in the midst of delays we have seen God do amazing things and bring about opportunities for Imara and our future plans that we never thought possible.

If you are considering being part of the January 2017 Mission Trip to Imara, guess what you get to do? That team will be painting the containers inside and out to make sure that they remain rust free and beautiful for years to come.  If you happen to have some extra painting skills, you could even paint the Imara logo on the outside.  It will be great fun and such a help.  You will get a front seat view of the building project.  You will get to watch the first Imara Village building being built while you paint.

PHOTOS: Family day reconnects moms with families

Family Day 2016-001

By Carol Erickson, Executive Director
Imara International

Family Day 2016 was a great day at Imara.  We loved welcoming all of the Imara friends and family to our home.  The day was spent reconnecting with family and celebrating the accomplishments of each of the girls and their children. The girls presented poems and music and the kids wowed everyone with their Bible verse recitation!

One of the great blessings of the day was hearing from the family members.  We gave them an opportunity to talk to the girls and give them advice.  It was amazing to hear what they had to say and how they emphasized the importance of education. Everyone participated in the afternoon and it of course ended with some delicious food! It was a fantastic day to celebrate all that the Imara girls have accomplished!

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Tracy Claeys: preparing youth for the future

Carol Erickson and Tracy Claeys

An audience of about 180, many of whom were first-time supporters of Imara International, heard a message of hope for the youth of Minnesota and Kenya at a breakfast event on May 9 at The Metropolitan ballroom and event center in Golden Valley, Minn. The keynote speaker, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers head football coach Tracy Claeys, delivered a message of hope for young people in challenging circumstances. Mike Max, WCCO-TV sports reporter and anchor, served as master of ceremonies.

Carol Erickson, Executive Director of Imara International, tied in themes of teamwork to her work at the Imara rescue home in Kenya. Both speakers emphasized the importance of education for the future of youth.

The event raised nearly $20,000 initially, with additional pledges and donations being received days later, including a grant from the TCF Foundation.

Tracy Claeys Breakfast at Metropolitan
Coach Tracy Claeys speaks at the Imara International breakfast, June 9, 2016.

Carol Erickson explains how Imara makes a difference

Imara Sunday 2016

Back in Minnesota from Kenya, Imara International Executive Director Carol Erickson spoke to hundreds at her home church on about how Imara is making a difference, on Imara Sunday, April 24.

Messiah United Methodist Church set aside Imara Sunday for Carol to speak to the congregation at its two worship services. She provided updates about the girls and their young children, and shared how Imara is making a positive difference in their lives through education, job skills, and a safe and healthy place to live. After each service, Erickson and board member Pete Thorp provided more details and an opportunity to ask questions and socialize.