We all hear stories.
Stories of the poor children in Africa. The poverty. The lack. The abuse. The rape. The starvation. The diseases. The suffering.
We hear these stories but we never really listen. Maybe we don’t even understand. We say “oh that’s terrible” and “someone should really do something about that”. But then we go back to our daily lives and of comfort and security and nothing changes.
But now, there are many many faces to the many stories. At least for me. But I’d like them for you as well.
Shortly after I arrived in Tanzania I met a young girl named Jennifer. Jennifer was 12. She worked as a house girl. Here in Tanzania a house girl is basically someone who lives and works in your house. The take care of your kids, your cleaning, your cooking, your errands and water fetching. Often these girls fall into this role because they can’t afford to go to school. Often they aren’t paid for their work, they just receive some food and a roof over the head. Jennifer’s mother had sent her away to find work because she was sick and couldn’t take care of her. She ended up in the big city of Arusha because her aunt lived here. Jennifer wasn’t much different from any of the stories that I had heard about house girls. But God said “Jennifer is special. Jennifer is my daughter, and I have big big plans for her. But Jennifer needs to go to school, and I need you to help her.”
So I set out. First, due to language difficulties, I had a friend ask the family Jennifer was working for if I could try and find a sponsor to send her to school. They agreed. Then I was off looking. I sent out emails and wrote blogs and posts. People responded. Before I knew it I had her start up fees covered! Then I needed to find a school. This turned out to be harder because of her age. There were many schools who said it would not work because she would need to start in the equivalent of pre school. But one school said they’d take her. That she was not the first girl in this situation. That they believed in her, and that she could succeed.
When I brought Jennifer for her entrance exam for class placement she could not even write her name at the top of the paper. She could not read any of the questions, even in Swahili. She didn’t know one word of english. My heart broke at how stuck she must have felt. But I knew it would change. The instructor did a quick verbal lesson and Jennifer was catching on quite quickly. My heart let out a sigh of relief. She would start school in 4 days.
We went to the market to pick up a bunch of things she needed for school. I remember the look on her face as we got the first item on the list. Underwear. She was so happy. She told me she didn’t even own any underwear. We went through the list, socks, shoes, sweatshirt, trunk to store the things. Her face was priceless. She had never done this. She had never gone shopping like this. We got back in the car and she just stared at her new things. She was so thankful. Again my heart broke. She deserved so much more than this life had given her.
After the first trimester ended I went with Jennifer to pick up her grades. She had all A’s and one B. Her teacher said she was very very bright and she was learning quickly. When she returns to school they were going to put her ahead to the next level, the equivalent of kindergarten, after only 3 months! I brought Jennifer to the family she had been staying with before. They assured me that they had missed her and were happy to have her home for school holiday.
Recently I was informed this was not the case. They were forcing Jennifer to work very hard, without pay, and abusing her. Jennifer ran away and showed up at her aunt’s house crying. The whole situation exploded. Everything hit the fan, so to speak. Jennifer moved in with her aunt, but things are still a mess. She goes back to school Monday.
And now I feel stuck in the middle. I never could have expected this is the way things would play out, but I also feel I should never have let her return with that other family. My heart breaks for Jennifer’s heart. How must she feel? How will she go back to school with her head held high after all this? When people beat you down and treat you like property, how do you bounce back?
I want her to know she is loved. She is precious. She is worth so much more. She has a hope and a future. She is a child of the King of all Kings and that makes her royalty! And He has HUGE plans for her life! Oh God, if only you could make her see. Speak to her heart gently, bind up her wounds. Bring her into your embrace. Show her she is Your child. She is not just a story to be forgotten about. She is human, she is a child, and she deserves to be loved and known and cared for. Would you pray with me for her?
(additionally if you feel led to give to support Jennifer’s school fees you can go to www.youcaring.com/jenniferschoolfund )