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.