New book tells the story of Imara International

Safe in a Tree

Safe in a Tree

By Leonard Freeman

Safe in a Tree, Imara and Me, started out, as many stories do, with an image. C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories came out of an image he’d had in his head for years, of a lamppost in a snowy wood. Similarly, my wife Lindsay and I had been discussing doing some sort of book for Imara for quite some time, when I came back to an image Carol Erickson had shared that stuck with me: of a young woman up in a tree protecting herself and her baby from hyenas after she had fled her village. I started to back that up to the image of a young woman, now safe in a tree, sitting there with her child in her arms, on a lower, safe-height branch, at Imara House.

Sitting in our living room with Lindsay, I began talking the story out in children’s book rhyme, much like a Dr. Suess book. As I did so, and we went back and forth, I could hear the story unfold, and a sense of the images to go with it, in my head.

We realized that a children’s version of the story might well give us a way to tell the story without getting too corporate, and at the same time in a way that children could get a feel for the good work that God is doing with Imara. And of course, as any preacher knows: if the children can get it, adults will too.

I went back then to an opening image of this young girl, who would tell us her story looking out at us from up in a tree with her baby. Initially we would see her up close and not be able to tell at what height or danger she was in. Eventually in the story, we would see her up in that other tree of her journey with hyenas around her. In the end, we would pull back to the full shot of her (from that first opening image), where she and her child were now clearly very happily and safely there in the Imara Village.

Talking it through, I took the journey with her. From the village she had to flee, to her trust in God to get her through, to that hyenas tree, to town, to being found by Carol, and then on to Imara where good things happened for her and her child, to the final Up in A Tree panel. I felt some freedom, because it was based on a true story, but I didn’t have to be slavishly tied to total detail.

Working with an artist is an important part of any children’s book. My good friend and colleague Paul Shaffer, with whom Lindsay and I had worked on some previous books and theatrical productions (Paul is an excellent set designer) agreed to help. I asked if he’d be willing to do this pro bono, and he said absolutely.

The writer of a children’s book typically either does the images himself, or thinks through what images he wants. I envisioned the book as each piece of text on one page, and the matching picture on the opposite facing page. I then wrote out what images I had in mind — what I basically wanted in each shot, the emotional feel of it, possibly the constraints or background — and then sent them along with the text pieces to Paul.

Paul then created draft images on his computer and sent them to me. We then went back and forth to get the right feel. For instance, we wanted to show the girl having to leave the village, but not too much of the nastiness of the villagers. We decided to tone down how close and vicious the hyenas were, and how the girl would look (old enough, but still a child herself). Along the way, Paul also contacted people who’d been to Imara and Kenya to get the images as accurate as possible without breaking up the story line.

We sat down together and put the pieces up online into a book text. One of our constraints was that the publisher needed a minimum of twenty-four pages to produce a book, so words, pictures, and other material had to fit those technical aspects.

In the end it all worked. We saw proofs, ordered copies, and were delighted to have them there as our gift to Imara. God bless us every one, especially the young mothers and children of Kenya.

Poet, priest and writer, Leonard Freeman is the former head of communications for Trinity Church Wall Street and Washington National Cathedral. He is the author of Safe in a Tree, Imara and Me, available on The author is donating the proceeds from every copy sold to Imara International.

A look back at 2015 from the Imara House

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas - tree

By Sandy Skorczewski, Assistant Director, USA
Imara International

It’s amazing that 2015 is coming to a close. The time goes by quickly and changes happen all around us, no matter where we are or what we are doing. It is exciting for me to step back and reflect on all that has been happening and share some parts of that with you.

The young mothers continue to mature and grow more as each day passes. They are doing very well in school, and their desire to succeed is visible every day. They are excited to be in school and taking the new step of going offsite to attend a basic computer class. They know this will give them an edge in the work world in Kenya. Their job skills improve with the help of missionary and local volunteers. Businesses in Nanyuki have opened their doors to allow hands-on training for them. Seeing the young mothers grow and glow is something hard to put into words. It simply excites me to be a part of and see these lives being changed.

The young children continue to grow up way too fast. It is fun to see them mature and change. The oldest is now at three-and-a-half years, and the youngest is just one month on December 15. We have five toddlers in preschool each day. The amount of information those little sponges soak up is amazing. The teacher says with great enthusiasm, that they are well ahead of the norm, based on their ages. The one-year-olds are learning to walk and one is nearly running – keeping all of us on our toes. The two youngest, born since October, are mostly hanging out with their mommies.

Imara International as a whole has also grown and changed over the year. We have a good team with their hearts focused on the vision of Imara. I believe that Carol Erickson, Executive Director and all of the adult staff are the daily parental role models for the young mothers and children of Imara. As we continue to grow as an organization, we not only help raise our teen moms at the rescue house, we also focus on ways to help our staff grow. We are working for the whole Imara family.  I am thrilled daily that I can be a part of this process!

The Imara Village build is taking off! We have 20 acres of land that is being developed into a village for 50 moms and their babies. Over the last nine months the gate was constructed and placed; the first structure (an outdoor toilet) is in place; a shallow well was dug; and crops of beans, maize and potatoes planted. The water from the well is being used for the crops when the rains aren’t enough. One of our challenges is having staff chase the monkeys away from the crops. Yes, I said monkeys, not deer or raccoons or any other rodents. It has been fun to watch the process of growth! Most exciting is to know we are in the next stages of expanding the village with the additional structures, as we have the blueprints ready to submit for approvals. Imara Village is on its way forward!

On behalf of all of us at the Imara House, thank you for your support, Merry Christmas, and a happy new year in 2016!


VIDEO: Imara moms in their own words

At the annual Imara International Holiday Gala on December 7, some of the Imara moms sent their personal greetings and thanks via this video.

Asante sana (thank you)

Mission trippers
Mission trippers
September 2015 mission trippers: Mary, Sophy (our lodge host in Kenya), Evie, Peggy, Barb, Lynn, Jess and Pepper.

By Barb Kula, Board of Directors
Imara International

Just a quick wrap up from our trip to Imara: all are back in the U.S. and hopefully over any jet lag!

Everyone worked so hard and did a great job preparing for the trip. Our accomplishments:

  • clothing and bedding sorted, inventoried and in storage for easy access (like cleaning your closets for twenty kids)
  • supplies organized and stored for easy access
  • sewing classes for skills development and sale items for upcoming bazaar
  • video interviews with moms, Carol, and Sandy so they can tell the Imara story
  • pre-kindergarten curriculum introduction and roll-out
  • cream separator installed and working for quality baking

Of course, so much more that Carol and Sandy take into stride on a daily basis: two new moms welcomed to Imara House, cakes baked and decorated for sale, crops planted (maize, beans, potatoes), well dug, and the list goes on and on.  How they do it every day is amazing.

A special thanks to all who pitched in and donated money and supplies for the trip.  You and everyone mentioned above are making a difference.  You are providing a chance for a future for a teen mom and her child.  Huge steps forward in their life journey.  Imara House today, Imara Village in their future.  Thank you!

The beehive of activity

Cream separatorBy Barb Kula, Board of Directors
Imara International

This was our last full day at Imara House. Everyone was feeling a little anxiety about finishing the work we had hoped to get done. So we all worked extra hard today.

The inventory is 90% done. What is done is clearly labeled and sorted into bins. This system will help Sandy and Carol know what they have, know where there are gaps, and be able to quickly find the right sizes when anyone from newborn to age 20 needs a new pair of shoes or shirt or dress.

Some friends of Sophy G’s (our home away from home) came to help get the cream separator running. The bakers use whole cream in their cakes to make them rich and moist and cream in the frostings. This will make the process much easier.

The sewing team finished the projects that they had started. Evelyn made an adorable little dress for her daughter. She glowed with pride over her work. Roselyn mastered sewing in a zipper two different ways: hidden and decorative. We cut out and sewed several table runners, too. Hopefully each one learned a skill that she can help the other learn when we are gone.

Unless you are here, it’s hard to imagine all that is going on in a fairly small space. The sewing takes place in a 12 x 12-foot room, with all walls lined with shelves that store baking supplies, school materials towels, diapers, etc. Three or four people work on sewing projects while various people come in and out looking for baking supplies or school books or craft materials, and another is labeling the inventory bins. Out in the main room, one end of the table was being used to separate cream, while the other end was being used to cut table runners. Others were beading off to the side.

Out in the back, girls were mixing and cooking chapatti (flatbread) for our “tortillas” tonight for Taco Tuesday. Studying is better now that they have the tent outside. So many things happen in the same space the same time throughout the Imara House. The dream of the Imara Village will fulfill the need for space dedicated to various activities.