Sweet and cheerful, I can always count on Michelle to be an active participant; she is consistently engaged with lots of questions and interesting inputs. Michelle handed me a letter during our last program from her sister, and I’d like to share some of what Naomy wrote.

Dear Madam,

…I am just a new student to this school but in my previous school I was in the environmental club but when I came to Matulo I found no club going on. I would like to request you if you can accept me to join your project so that  I can continue to develop mentally, emotionally and even physically as I have seen my sister Michelle developing. That means there is good things in this project.

It is amazing that I get the honor of being called ‘madam’ and the chance to speak life into the lives of these girls. I pray that through our work, they will not spend years doubting their beauty, worth and capabilities because an older sister came along and reminded them of their truths.

I know that in life they will face lots of challenges, however, I firmly believe that if they are secure and confident, that they will be able to handle those challenges well.

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(*name changed to protect privacy)

Anna was orphaned when her parents died of AIDS and lives with relatives.  We sat down to talk one day and she began relaying some horrific events from her childhood.   I couldn’t hold back tears.  What do you say to someone who’s endured the unimaginable?  What do you say when you know that when she leaves, she’s going back to an unsafe environment?   Feel better?  I realized that sometimes when you don’t know what to do, you can listen.  As it turned out, she’d never had that before.  She’d never told anyone.  We open and close each day of camp with a series of “I AM STRONG” chants and in that moment I wondered how could she be that strong?  When I asked if she was worried about the safety of her younger sister she said ‘no, not at all.’  Her sister after all, was born with AIDS and that made her safe.  It gave her peace of mind.  Who knew that having the most dreaded disease in the world could be a blessing?

The fortitude of Anna is typical of the Yayaz Girls, and as much as they think this is the best program ever, we think they’re the best people ever.

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Sylvia is a girl who was taken in by relatives and in return, does most of the housework for a large family. She surprised me though because rather than lament about how exhausted she is from the long school days, endless homework, weekend classes and housework, she talked excitedly about what she loved most: running. Every day Sylvia wakes up at the crack of dawn and heads to her school field where she runs sprints and does exercise drills before class. She loves to compete and dreams of the day she can become a professional runner. A Kenyan pro-runner? Who would’ve thought? Well, I’ve run two half marathons before in fancy places like Alaska so I asked what any professional like myself would ask.

“Do you have running shoes?”
“I’m going to get you some running shoes.”

I walk-ran two half marathons…wait did I say I ran them before, excuse me, I half-ran two half-marathons, and I have expensive orthotics that have my name full name engraved in them that I only got after enduring the torture of a 15 min foot massage from a handsome podiatrist. Worst experience of my life 😉 I also have running shoes that I got from a running store only after running on a treadmill and my gait observed on a monitor for over-pronation. I’m professional at running shoes. I could tell she found my American insistence that shoes are the key to success amusing, so I decided not to go into something I know even better than running shoes, sports bras. I can talk about sports bras all day.

“I really can’t run in shoes” [blank stare] “Even if I wear them, I take them off right before the race”
“Even at national competitions?”

I tried to imagine her taking off her shoes at the Boston Marathon and the thought amused me so much. Talk about good TV. She would be so popular. I could see the headlines…’the key to running like a Kenyan, no shoes!’

“Alright Sylvia. Keep running. Keep winning.”
“Yes, Madam.”

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