Imara International opens doors and heart to serve young women, babies in Kenya

Carol holding baby

Carol holding baby

This article originally appeared in the December 2012 edition of the newsletter of Messiah United Methodist Church.

By Carol Hazzard

One year ago, Carol Erickson stood before the Messiah congregation and delivered her faith story. In it, she shared how God had put caring for children on her heart while she was still a child herself—ten years old—and had learned of the crisis of orphaned children in Romania.

Immediately, Carol recalled, she wanted her mom to put her on a plane to Romania. Of course, her mom kept her young daughter at home in Washington state. But Carol never forgot.

As she matured, God’s seed for caring for children grew in her heart. She pursued a degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in family life/human services. She did realize her childhood dream to serve at an orphanage in Eastern Europe. Stateside, she worked as a teacher and Christian educator, always with the passion to teach kids about God’s love.

In 2006, just prior to beginning her tenure with Messiah as Director of Children and Family Ministry, Carol traveled to Kenya and served at Light of Hope Children’s Home and School. For the next five years, Carol devoted her energy to faith formation of Messiah’s kids and advocacy of the girls at Light of Hope. She also continued to pray and to listen for God’s plan for her.

At last, she determined that God was calling her to ministry in Africa and set about to discern how best to answer that call. She traveled back to Kenya, accompanied on the front end of her journey by Amanda Richards and on the back end of her trip by Barb Kula. What she discovered through her conversations with people working in the social services areas in Kenya was that there is no support system in place for teen moms and their children. Carol determined that this was the ministry to which God was calling her. The idea for Imara was born.

Back home in Minnesota, Carol began laying the groundwork for her mission more than 8,000 miles away in Kenya. She filed the paperwork for a non-profit organization, assembled a board of directors, articulated a vision and a mission, established a foundation and commenced fundraising. And, of course, she prayed. Everyone prayed.

A Ministry Begins

In June, Carol departed to find her new home, the home for Imara International in Kenya. After several weeks on the ground, Carol found the perfect starter home to lease for Imara and hired staff. The space will house staff and 10 girls and their babies.

Originally, the thought was to move into the house in Nanyuki, establish relationships in the community, hire staff and open the doors to the young moms on January 1.

But the need for a mission to serve teen mothers and their children in Kenya is significant: over 13,000 teenage girls drop out of school each year because they are pregnant. Most of them never complete school, and many are forced out of their homes and into early marriage or exploitation on the streets.

And, as Carol observes, the Kenyans are a very well-networked people. Word of Imara spread quickly through the country. Social workers serving other parts of the country learned of the mission and were soon telling people, “Carol in Nanyuki can help.”

Even before Carol moved onto the property, Imara had a waiting list. The week of Thanksgiving, Imara officially opened its doors and three girls—two with six-month-old babies and one expecting in late December—became the first residents. Since then, two other young moms have joined them. The remaining first residents will move at the start of the new year.

Embraced in Minnesota

Carol returned to the states in late November to do some awareness building and fundraising for Imara. The Imara Foundation sponsored “A Starry Evening with Imara,” on December 2. Carol delivered a keynote address at the gala fundraiser which also featured a silent auction. The event raised $49,000 for Imara International.

“I can’t even begin to express the gratitude I feel for the support Imara has received from Messiah and so many others in Minnesota,” says Carol.

“I really want people to understand that Imara has not become a reality because of me; it’s become a reality because of all of you who have embraced and supported this ministry. Imara just wouldn’t exist without everyone here.”

Although it may seem that taking Imara from inspiration to fruition has been straightforward, in reality, the process has required great tenacity, plenty of patience and enormous courage. Through it all, our faithful God has sustained Carol and those serving with her.

“Many times over my last six months in Kenya God has shown himself faithful in my life and in the lives of those around me,” testifies Carol. “It doesn’t mean that bad things have not happened, it just means that God has made a way, sometimes miraculous, for us to make it through. It has helped me to pray believing that God is going to show up and help us get things done. For me, it took God taking me out of my comfort zone, to a place where I knew I was in way over my head. This hasn’t always been comfortable but it has allowed me to see God act in amazing ways.”

Return to Imara

When Carol returns to Nanyuki and Imara in early January, she will come home to a full house—five young women, five infants, four more moms and their babies waiting to be admitted, two house parents, one housekeeper, one security guard, one cat, one German Shepherd puppy in training to become a security guard dog and – in every space – the presence of our loving God.

As the Imara ministry becomes fully operational in the coming months, establishing a daily rhythm to teach the girls to care for their babies, do their studies and function as respectful family members in their new home is the immediate challenge.

Goals for Imara International’s future in Kenya include purchasing 20 acres of land with the intent of building a compound that will enable the program to become self-sufficient in food; establish permanent housing for the executive director, staff and visitors; provide a multi-purpose building for worship, education and training; and house up to 30 teenage moms and their children.