The third annual Imara International gala, “Faces of Imara: Moving Toward the Future,” brought donations totaling over $68,000 toward the 2015 operating budget. A silent auction of premium gift baskets and items was the featured fundraiser. Remarks to supporters from Carol Erickson, Exeuctive Director; Larry Welliver, Board of Directors chairman; and Fred Hegele, capital campaign chairman; highlighted the program, held December 7 at Rush Creek Golf Club.
Here is an excerpt of Carol Erickson’s remarks as prepared for the gala:
In the last two years we have learned in a small way what it means to be part of giving hope to a handful of young women, who thought all hope was lost. When Imara International first began a small group of people joined together to attempt to catch a vision for what God was doing in the lives of teenage mothers in Kenya. Since then many more have caught this vision, a vision of hope through education, community, job skills and faith.
There is a proverb that says when there is no vision the people perish. The teen mothers of Kenya aren’t allowed to have vision, they are stigmatized, kicked out of school and are given the options of life on the street or early marriage. Together we have shown them that this is not the vision God has for them. God’s plan is one of hope, prosperity, and a good future. Many are left to perish in a life of hardship and disappointment. But this is not what god wants for them and I think I can speak for us all, it is not what we want for them. Together, we are helping teen moms in Kenya catch the vision, a vision of a good future.
The girls have grown in amazing ways over the last year. I have to be honest with you and tell you that it has also been a challenging year as we have worked out some kinks that come from working with Kenyan teens. But the vision of Imara is starting to be realized in the lives of the girls and babies. Let me share with you a couple of stories.
In September both Everlyne and Mamaiyo had babies on the same weekend. Both were born at cottage hospital, a private hospital in Nanyuki. When they came home we overheard this conversation: Naomi said to the new moms as they were each handed a steaming cup of hot chocolate, “Do you know how lucky you are? When I came home we had no food. My mom had to quickly sell something so she could buy enough maize meal to make me a small cup of thin porridge. I went to bed hungry!” Then Naomi wept.
I have to thank you because no one goes to bed hungry at the Imara house. It is because of your faithful support that we have been able to provide so well for each of the girls and their babies. They don’t have to worry that there won’t be food the next day. Not only do we have food every day, we have enough extra that we can help the girls learn how to bake. They have two restaurants that regularly buy cakes from them as well as many private clients. I wish I had the time to tell you all of the opportunities that have opened up for us around baking. I get introduced as the cake lady where ever I go and people know about the girls and their baking. God is good.
The girls are doing amazingly well in their education, but it is the babies who are getting the educational foot up. Our babies are all bilingual, they have the proper nutrition and medical care, they are learning something new every day. They don’t have to go to bed hungry, they are safe and they are afforded the luxury of play.
The girls are also healing on an emotional and spiritual level, the most important part of the work we do. One of our girls really struggles. She was orphaned at three months and then rejected by her family member. In fact, they told her she was cursed and that the death of her parents was her fault. Her heart is broken by rejection and she has learned to defend herself by reacting with anger. She has no idea what family is supposed to be.
One day I found her in the dorm crying. I did my best to pry out of her what was bothering her. She had convinced herself that Jayne was mad at her (which she wasn’t). Her solution to the problem was that I should take her to town and drop her off. It was better to face life on her own than to find out that she was rejected again. As I talked with her I discovered that she didn’t even think God loved her, much less any humans.
Where do you even begin? This precious girl has been wounded so deeply. I shot up a quick and desperate prayer. We talked about what it meant to be family, that how at the end of the day, even if you have been angry or frustrated, you still love your family and we still loved her. I told her she was stuck with us. We were family and no matter what we loved her. I also told her that God loves her, to which she said she wasn’t so sure. We decided to pray that God would show her how much he loves her.
During the next weeks whenever great things would happen to her (which seemed to happen all the time) I would remind her with, See God does love you. Now when something good happens, she says, I know, God loves me! Has the love of God and family fully soaked in, not yet, but every day I see a little more of the anger replace by joy in her life. God is at work.
What’s next for Imara International?
The vision of creating a home for teen moms has become a reality, but it is now time to expand the vision to better accommodate our current girls as well as those who are still waiting for a place to go.
There are thousands of girls in Kenya who have not yet had the opportunity to experience the future hope. They are alone, they are afraid, they have an infant and no good options and I am sorry to say that the imara house is full. We cannot take any more girls. Our house is busting at the seams.
So how do we do this? So far, God has been so good to us. He has opened amazing doors that have guided us forward. We are in the process of incorporating as Imara International Kenya, a Kenyan not-for-profit company. This will allow our girls to continue to produce and sell items as part of their job and life skills training. It also sets us up as official organization in Kenya which allows us to purchase land.
We are so excited that things are finally coming together. As most of you know, we have identified a piece of land to purchase. What you may not know is that the owner of the land has become a good friend and he is doing all he can to make the Imara vision a reality. We have an official land agreement that allows us to use the land until we are able to purchase it. We cannot wait to get moved out to the land because we know that we cannot take Imara to the next level without more space, but there is a lot of work to do first.
Why is the land and the Imara village so important? The babies learn and play just a couple feet from where their mothers are trying to study. And as you all know, toddlers are super quiet. We have 10 people in a dorm room that is about 12 feet by 12 feet. And each teen has to share a bed with her baby and some of the babies are getting big! There is no space for girls to work on the job training, if we are baking there is hardly room to have school unless someone goes outside. Sewing is almost impossible unless they sew on the front porch. The girls are excited to learn and practice their skills, but there just isn’t the space to do if effectively. The babies are getting bigger and need more space to play and learn. Our two matrons share a tiny room with bunk beds and Jane and Reuben welcome a baby of their own into the world in February.
Can we survive like this? Of course we can, but can we fulfill the vision of providing excellent care for young women and their babies like this? No, I don’t think so.
Thank you for seeing the vision
There are so many more girls who need our help and the girls and babies who currently live at the Imara home need space for learning, living and just being kids. God has been faithful in these first three years. In another translation of the proverb it says if the people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves. But when they attend to what he reveals they are most blessed. But we have seen what God is doing in the lives of each of the girls and babies and we have been more generously blesses.
Thank you for seeing the vision, thank you for attending to the teen moms who have nowhere to go and I hope you realize the blessings you have showered on us and I hope that you feel the blessing as well. You have made a difference and I believe that together we can continue and fulfill the vision that God has put in front of us so that there will always be a place for a teenage girl who is pregnant with nowhere to go.