Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mind-Blowing Faith & the Blow of Disappointment

The Struggle to Find Water for St. Lucia Orphanage
by Jenny Fredette

As an economic development organization working in some of the world’s poorest communities, WorldServe loves to report victories. Our donors, our board of directors, our staff and the people we try to help – everyone wants to hear good news. We all enjoy knowing we are making a positive difference in the lives of people who are suffering.

But sometimes in our work, we find challenges. I’m not referring to the everyday challenges of raising funds, coordinating with our partners or getting out the word.

Sometimes, even we have some money in the bank and we’re ready to get to work, we still face incredible trials and even heartbreaking disappointment.

Such is our recent experience trying to help an orphanage in rural Tanzania called St. Lucia (“lu SEE uh”).

St. Lucia Hospice and Orphanage was started in 2002 by a Tanzanian woman named Winfrida Mwashala. As a nurse, she was shocked and saddened at the way people with HIV/AIDS were treated – or not treated, for that matter. Winfrida and her husband, a tour guide, rented a nearby home and started somewhat of a hospice care for adults with AIDS. Through their own resources, they paid for the patients’ food, shelter and medicine.

While the improved nutrition, access to medicine and loving care helped patients become healthier, many spent their last days in Winfrida’s care. AIDS claimed many lives. Sadly, some of these adults left behind children who were now orphaned and in most cases, also infected with HIV/AIDS. Winfrida and her husband knew St. Lucia had to be both an orphanage as well as the hospice for adults. They were stretched to the max in providing selflessly for their sick neighbors.

In 2005, Winfrida’s path crossed with a hair designer from Cincinnati, Ohio who made a short-term volunteer trip to Tanzania with the group Cross Cultural Solutions. Her name is Connie Naber. Connie could not have comprehended just how much this trip would change her life.

Though Connie didn’t volunteer at St. Lucia on that trip, a friend of hers volunteered with Winfrida. Connie heard stories about St. Lucia every day. It became more and more clear that Connie would not be able to leave Winfrida or the children of St. Lucia behind. She would carry them back to Ohio with her in constant thoughts.

Like Winfrida, Connie did not hesitate to share her own personal resources with the Tanzanian people in need. It started relatively small… Connie sent Winfrida $500 to purchase a much-needed wheelchair and an IV holder for the patients.

After that first donation, her involvement only grew. Connie soon started her own nonprofit organization called The Karama Connection. “Karama” is the Swahili word for blessing or gift. Connie decided to start raising funds to support the larger needs of St. Lucia. As a full-time hair designer (the nonprofit work continues to be a volunteer gig), she had one advantage – the ear of her clients throughout the day. Connie shared about Winfrida and the children of St. Lucia. She knew that through her stories and the open heart of her clients and coworkers, more could be done to support the suffering children of St. Lucia.

And support the community did! Though Connie only puts on one fundraiser each year called Karama-Rama, the results are astounding. The nonprofit took in $25,000 in its first year, $101,000 its second year and an incredible $180,000 last year.

Connie already knew one of the top needs of St. Lucia – clean water. St. Lucia has a new main house built on 4 acres of land, but it lacks the basic resource of clean water. Workers even wash all the clothes by hand to conserve what little water they do have stored in two 10,000 liter tanks. The lack of clean water is not only a hardship to the workers, but also creates problems for ensuring the nutrition and sanitation for the sick children.

Through a divine meeting with the Usa River Rotary Club in Tanzania and our drilling company, Maji-Tech Engineering, WorldServe started to have contact with Connie. In fact, the Rotary Club chose St. Lucia as a project they would sponsor. What an incredible blessing to Connie and to the orphanage this would be! While Connie had taken the massive task of finding a borehole driller very seriously and was concerned, she started to see that God was working all things together for good.

When Connie received an email from Winfrida that the drilling had started, she felt pure exhilaration. All the hard work, the fundraising, the praying – it was all coming together. It seemed it wouldn’t be long until the children of St. Lucia finally had clean, safe water at their home.

Connie waited day by day to hear the news that water had been found. Maji-Tech kept drilling and Connie kept waiting. The crew drilled way below where they thought the water table was.

Eventually news came, but it was not what Connie was waiting for. In fact it was heartbreaking. Winfrida informed Connie that the drilling crew was unable to find water.

Days passed and even weeks. Connie wanted to contact John Bongiorno, president of WorldServe International, but dreaded the encounter. What was there to say? Not only was there no water, but other organizations had “wasted” their own resources in the unsuccessful attempt. It seemed like a lose/lose situation.

Earlier this month, John Bongiorno sent her an email to confirm the results. He wrote:

“Connie, I am very sad to report that there was no water at the St. Lucia project. My organization will absorb the loss of nearly $10,000. We prayed and even drilled beyond the survey depth. This area is notorious for water problems and as you know is on the side of a hill… It appears that they will have to continue to purchase water… Chris met with Winfrida and everyone is sad. At this point we do not have a cost-effective solution for the project.”

Nobody wants to hear this news, yet it is a sad fact about providing water solutions – there is simply no guarantee. We can perform hydro-geological surveys and drill 100 meters into the earth, but there is no promise that we will hit water.

John was just as reluctant to break the news to Connie. But it turned out they were of the same heart and mind on the matter. Connie replied:

“John, this makes us all sad and I feel terrible about the loss for WorldServe. I am so grateful for your willingness to try to drill though you knew the difficulty. Words cannot express the gratitude we have for you trying… I have been putting off this email to you because my heart has been so heavy and I didn’t know if I could find the right words to say to you. I think we are going to consider rain harvesting… I am looking forward to seeing what God’s lesson is, for what we are thinking is a disappointment but really a lesson.”

This email floored us. We knew it was a disappointing blow, but Connie’s response was so gracious. She understood we had given all that we could. We determined to work together to help them find water using other techniques.

St. Lucia is an example of the challenges we sometimes face at WorldServe. We don’t always get water when we drill for it. We pray, but we don’t always receive the result we expect. We certainly don’t always understand why things happen as they do.

But perhaps Connie’s own testimony is the best encouragement for us. When asked what was so special about Africa, she described the “mind-blowing faith” of the people.

Connie said, “We have so much to learn from the people in Africa. They are faced with so much more than we could ever comprehend. Today is all they have. There’s no retirement fund, no health insurance; they don’t depend on all these things. So what we learn from them about faith is mind-blowing. If you want to know about true faith, you go to Africa and meet people who have nothing but believe anyway that God is going to take care of them.”

And so we do as our African sisters and brothers are teaching us. Though we have great needs, challenges and even disappointments, we continue to have faith that God is going to take care of us and those who need water. We pray for His favor as we undertake drilling projects and try to share the love of Jesus Christ. We ask for your prayers also. Though we do not always understand why things happen, may we be karama – a blessing – to the people we serve, to each other and to the Lord.

1 comment:

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