Monthly Archives: January 2013
Bread Basket – LOVE
WATERFALL FINDING THE WAY AFTER BEING LOST
Many of you may recall the horrors wrought by the 1994 Rwandan civil war. During that one hundred day war, over one million Tutsi men, women and children were brutally slaughtered. When the civil war ended, the country was left in ruins with its population of approximately 11 million people in abject poverty. Prostitution became a way of life for many young girls and women, simply as a means of sustenance. HIV/AIDS was a common affliction for the entire population.
During the genocide, Michel Kayiranga, a young man born and raised in Gitarama, a rural area of Rwanda, was luckier than most.
In the days after 9/11, Michel felt a calling to join the military and fight for freedom against the terrorists who had attacked the United States, even though the U.S. had done nothing to help his country during the genocide that killed his family. He served in the US navy, later moving to Seattle to work as an engineer for GE. When the uprisings began, he was outside the country studying at Kenya University. Unable to return to his country until after the war, when he finally reentered Rwanda, he discovered a country in utter chaos. Although his mother had survived, his father and sister were not so lucky. They had been slaughtered along with many other close family members and friends. Armed with an engineering degree and a winning lottery ticket, Michel received a green card and an airline ticket to the US. He found employment as an engineer in Los Angeles and began to settle down. But his life felt incomplete.
Meanwhile, in 2004 a non-profit organization known as Rwanda Partners (RP) was founded as a fair trade organization committed to fighting poverty in East Africa and restoring hope to the poor and marginalized. Through projects in both education and job creation, Rwanda Partners dedicates itself to a further goal – the healing and reconciliation among the Rwandan people and the greater region of East Africa. Through the formation of income-generating projects such as basket weaving, beading and sewing cooperatives, RP has succeeded in establishing working relationships between these former enemies.
At some point Greg Stone, Executive Director of Rwanda Partners, asked Michel if he would be willing to go back to Rwanda to serve as country director of the Rwanda Partners project. Although Michel thought he had left that part of his life behind, this offer ignited a second calling in him. The stories of how he has impacted on the basket weavers’ lives is one you are likely to remember for a very long time.
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She was a beautiful woman who left her home state of Washington to move to Alaska. She and her husband had a dream of moving north. They packed up their belongings and drove to this territory of the United States. Alaska was not yet a state and they settled in the small town of Anchorage. She was a woman with a pioneer spirit, but never left her house without her signature Coco Chanel red lipstick. This woman whom I speak of was model perfect in every sense of the word. She even appeared on TV every Wednesday afternoon for a local show called “The Women’s Touch”.
This woman was my mother.
Even though she was a stay home mom, she was the busiest person I ever knew. She loved her newly founded state and became a socialite and was involved in multiple committees that ranged from the PTA, local causes, and church functions. Once we children had left home, she volunteered once a week at the Anchorage Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s Center is a log cabin originally built in 1955, complete with a grass-tundra covered roof. It used to be one the original houses of an earlier time, and now stands in the middle of the financial district of downtown Anchorage. It is a landmark building.
Every Thursday while walking to the center, she passed a Native Alaskan homeless woman sitting on a park bench asking for money. My mother never gave her money, knowing all too well where the cash would be spent. Instead she brought her coffee in the morning and soup or a sandwich in the afternoon. My mother was curious about this person and her story, and started arriving downtown earlier. She sat with her to get to know her.
This homeless street person was initially intimated by her questions, but my mother eventually made her feel at ease.
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Cheryl Stewart was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska and feels quite fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend the University of Salzburg to study history of art and architecture. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design from the American College of Applied Arts in London. Today Cheryl resides in Seattle, Washington and has two teenage children. For 9 years she was the senior interior designer for Starbucks Coffee Co. For as long as she can remember, Cheryl has been told that she is a born story teller, and in the past year has decided to start becoming a writer as well.
Melissa (center) with her friend Tamara
Life is a journey. Life is a race. Life is a highway to heaven. Some people say life is what you make of it. I am going to tell you a thing or two about life. Throughout my lifetime, I have been used and abused. I’ve been called all kinds of names. I’ve been robbed of my womanhood and have been cheated of being a mother. Maybe I would have been a great mother, the best mother that I could be.
Life, what is life? Where does life begin? I will tell you: My life began in my mother’s womb. We each are given different gifts: Eyes to see with, ears to hear with. I think I was given the gift of perception – the gift to sense some things that happened to me even before I was born. I seem to remember my mother crying out while I was still in the womb, saying that my father was dead. But maybe these are just words I heard as a tiny child, I can’t say for sure. But one thing I do know for sure is that when I heard those cries, I recognized the fear in her trembling voice: What would she do with me when I entered this cold world? Where would I sleep? What would I eat? I have so many early memories, but most of all, I remember my mom always praying. She prayed that God would take this new life and bless it. Mummy used to say, Father, this life in my belly is yours. The last day she said that was April 14, 1986, the day I was born. It was around Easter time – well, during Good Friday to be exact. At 5:15 p.m. a new life entered this world at ten pounds and five ounces.
I lived with my grandparents, my mother and my uncle. I always thought that my father was dead. Until one day when I was three years old, I saw him. My whole body stiffened It was like eating ice cream on a cold day. I felt numb, frozen inside and out, devoid of emotion of any kind. I didn’t know what to do. And then it came to me. I prayed. At the age of three, I prayed to my father to help me be the best daughter in this lifetime. Well I grew up without him in my life, but I was the best daughter that my mother could ask for.
At the age of eleven, I knew how to pray well. I was smart and doing well in school. I had my grandparents at my side. I loved going to church with them. Somehow I felt life wasn’t meant to be this good. I was right. I was watching television one day after school when my uncle came and did things to me that no man should do to a child. After he was finished, I cried and cried. I had no way of knowing that his abuse would continue and keep me crying for years. I asked myself, What is life? But I got no answer. I prayed for God to help me to be strong and to stand up for myself. Despite my tears and prayers, his abuse continued for years. I was sure this was the worst thing that could ever happen to me in this lifetime. I was wrong.
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FOOTNOTE: ABOUT MIKE IMHOF
When a retired teacher by the name of Michael Imhof entered Melissa’s life, he recognized special strivings in this young woman and offered to teach her English without charge. He explains: “Melissa is undocumented. She strives to get her GED. I teach her English gratis. When Melissa gave me a hint of her story, we found a tale full of heart break and hope. This is the first competition she has entered.”
My name is Melissa. I am a twenty-five year old black woman from the Caribbean. I am courageous, intelligent and hard working. I have been faced with incredible hardships which have taught me the arts of courage, perseverance, hope, and faith. I invite you to discover extremely personal revelations about myself and my life.
You never know who you will encounter in this life. Sometimes we ‘luck out’ serendipitously and meet someone very special. I had the good fortune to meet Jane and her boyfriend, Victor while I spent a month in a cottage that I painted for my cousin, Pat, on the Florida coast.
Jane lives in a quiet ‘over 55’ community on the Treasure Coast of Florida. Although Jane is in her mid-sixties she still radiates with a positive energy! I feel very fortunate to have met her and Victor and to be able to call them friends.
Jane’s mother tried to self-abort Jane and gave her up for adoption shortly after she was born. Jane’s mother was a life-long alcoholic; incapable of nurturing a child. Jane grew up in a series of abusive foster homes.
Jane’s school experience was not much better than her home life. In the third grade, Jane’s dyslexia and undiagnosed ADD led to her extreme embarrassment. Her teacher made Jane use yellow construction paper and paste to make a ‘dunce cap’ and write the word DUNCE on it. Jane was told to sit in the back of the classroom, wear her new creation and to be QUIET! This occurred on an almost weekly basis for the whole school year.
As time went on Jane’s school career got even worse. At one school she was periodically paraded into other classes as an example of malnutrition. The school nurse would ‘excuse’ Jane from whatever class she was in at that time to take her into other classrooms and then announce to the other students,”Make sure that you eat so that you do not end up looking like Jane.
Jane went to college and met Marty and fell in love with him. Marty was a strapping man, well over six feet tall and handsome. Jane was only five foot two, perky, bright and full of life. They married and had all the visible ‘trappings’ of a successful marriage and family life.
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Jim Lawrence is a native of Providence, RI. He earned a BA degree in History at the University of Rhode Island in 1976. Jim has been a lifelong learner who enjoys traveling, studying Russian and Spanish and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. He is an artisan in stone and wood who is writing his first non-fiction book about ADD (attention deficit disorder) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in an attempt to help other families cope .