We desire to bring sunshine to Africa....opportunities to allow people to realize their destinies and be released from oppression. We are starting in Mozambique with The Sunshine Nut Company. The majority of proceeds from this company will go to the poorest of farming communities and the neediest of children. Mozambique is ranked among the poorest in economic status but we believe they are among the richest in spirit. Join us in our adventure....

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Unforgettable Quele

I have worked roughly 33 years with children as an elementary teacher, as a mother, and now as the Director of Social Impact for our company. I have worked with all kinds of children…those that are easy and bring you great joy, those that are a challenge and try your patience beyond what you thought you were capable of, those that break your heart because of the trials they had to face in life, those to whom everything came easily, and those who had to work hard for everything they achieved. I have been inspired by so many of these children…their resilience, their trust in us adults in their lives, their hope for a better tomorrow, their fortitude, their willingness to try, try, and try again in the face of obstacles. I have worked with children who have overcome great difficulties to become great people. I have also worked with children who have not overcome and have had to continue to struggle as adults. I have seen children grow up to become parents. And I have seen children who have grown up to realize their dreams. Yet none of the children have inspired me as much as a little boy that I only met two days ago. His dear face is before me in my continual thoughts. And I believe it will be for a long, long time to come.

Meet my new friend, Quelementino Aclio Moises. Quele for short. 

I met Quele only two days ago. I met him at a time when I needed some inspiration. He has given me plenty. I was out walking through the community with Guida, the mom at our second Sunshine House. As we passed a tiny cement block home, she stopped me saying she wanted me to meet a child. And out he came. He was noticeably scared to be brought before a white lady. His eyes showed his discomfort, his head was bowed down, and he chewed nervously on his fingers. He immediately stole my heart and sympathy. In a flash of time, I could only imagine the struggles he has to face, now faces and would forever face in his life. Guida shared with me that she had given his parents an invitation for him to attend her project for the children in her community. Our foundation sponsors a Beacons of Light Community Project at each of our Sunshine Houses. During the day, when our Sunshine Children are off at school, their caretakers run a project for the neediest of the needy children who live around their homes. It is a safe place where these children come to play, sing, dance, hear stories, make crafts, and receive breakfast. Guida said that she could not understand why this little guy’s parents had not yet accepted her invitation and sent him to join her project.

As for me, I could understand completely. It was clear that they sheltered him at home, afraid of what others might say to him that could potentially hurt him. They were only doing what any loving parent would do to protect their child from harm. I told Quele's parents what our project is about- that it is a safe place for children to come to play and have fun…but most importantly, to be loved. I told them that he would be welcome to try it out at any time. Then I crouched down in front of Quele, looked into his fearful eyes, and told him that he would always, always, always be welcome to come and play.

Whatever it was that I said, it must have worked. I arrived at Guida’s project this morning, two days later. I come every Wednesday to share a story and a craft with the children. As I entered the gate, I was swarmed by 15 preschoolers all trying to beat each other out to hug me first. After hugs were given to all, as well as Band-Aids and kisses to the two children who got trampled in the excitement, I saw Quele standing back from the crowd… staring at me… smiling from ear to ear. This was not the same frightened little boy I had met two days ago. This little boy was exuding happiness. He displayed confidence. He was in a place where he was loved and accepted and he knew it! He had stepped out into an unknown and scary situation, and he was fully welcomed!

Today we shared the story of Jonah and the Whale with the children. Quele was totally captivated the entire time my colleague, Delcio, read the story. He could not take his eyes off Delcio. He was literally riveted the entire time. It occurred to me that this was possibly the first time that anyone had ever read him a story! 

After the story, we made a craft- a plastic paper cup whale that had a string tied to a flour filled balloon with a stick figure Jonah drawn on it. The objective of the game would be to toss Jonah into the air and catch him in the cup/whale. Quele patiently waited his turn to make his craft and was then jubilant when he was able to catch Jonah in the whale. Countless times, I had to turn away to restrain my tears. I was so happy for him. Yet at the same time, my heart broke for him. My mind reeled with the challenges he has already had to face in his 6 years of life, as well as the challenges he has yet to face as he ages into adulthood. The world can be a cruel place, especially for those who are different.

Yet for now, he is with us. We have an opportunity to pour into him, to love him, and to make him know how very special he is. I trust the confidence we can build into him will be enough for him to walk proudly and face whatever challenges he will have to face in life. He has inspired me to see things differently now. That instead of being put off by difficulties, to step out and give it a shot. He had to have been scared beyond belief to go to Guida’s project yesterday. He did not know what would happen when he walked through her gate. He could have been made fun of and laughed back home again. But he took a risk and went in anyway. And it paid off. His risk was rewarded with new friends, new opportunities, and a place to belong.

Thank you, Quele,  for teaching me that sometimes I also have to risk everything and take a chance. Thank you, Quele, for showing me what it means to be brave.
Thank you, Quele, for being a picture for me of what it is like to be transformed by love.
Thank you, Quele, for inspiring me to press on and continue to serve the people of Mozambique.
Thank you, Quele, for showing me that I am making a difference by being here.
You, my dear little friend, have changed my life. To you, I am forever indebted.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Up Day/ Down Day

We’ve all had these kinds of days. The ones where you are up one minute and down the next. I never know what to expect or what I will encounter when I pull out of my gate each morning. But my Tuesday this past week was an emotional roller coaster that left me with much to contemplate about my life and the lives of those I am here to serve.

My day began with a quick stop at ShopRite. Today was the last day of school for the 3 children in our first Sunshine House. They have worked hard this year, and I wanted for their caretaker to be able to celebrate their accomplishment with them. I arrived at the grocery store about 5 minutes before it opened at 9 am. As I got out of my car, I saw at least 30 people waiting outside the closed doors, all of them jockeying for a good position once the doors would be opened. It kind of looked like a scene from Black Friday. I couldn’t imagine what the big draw was. So I waited patiently in the back, not wanting to get trampled when it was time to enter. The doors opened a few minutes late, and everyone filed in. I felt a bit impatient; the late opening of the store made the start of my already packed day delayed as well. Like a robot on a mission, I headed straight back to the bakery and grabbed a chocolate cake. I passed by the frozen foods and grabbed a half-gallon of ice cream. Then I hurried my way to the register. As I stood with the attendant who rang me up, I took notice of the long line of people at the next register. There were young people, old people, and children. There were no women, only men. Their clothes were dirty and had tears in them. Each of their arms were laden with reduced foods from the deli that were left over from the day before…sandwiches, French fries, and the like. Each food item had a bright pink tag on it. The highest priced item I saw was 15 meticais, the equivalent of 25 cents. It dawned on me that they were buying up all the day-old food because this was what they could afford to eat. And there I stood with my luxury items for which I barely even glanced at the prices. And I felt horrible. Absolutely horrible. I felt like Marie Antoinette…”Let them eat cake.” Most of us reading this will never know the desperation of poverty and hunger. How very much we all need to realize how blessed we really and truly are.

I finished paying and scooted on my way. I had too much to do and too little time to get it done in.  I dropped the goods off at Sunshine House 1, hung up a “Parabens” (Congratulations) sign and some balloons, and then headed to our community project at Sunshine House 2 where I was teaching a Bible lesson and craft. As I drove down the final lane to the house, my car was swarmed by dozens of children. Their school holidays began just last week. Because they have been in school, most don’t know me. All I could hear was the playful chanting of “Mulungo” (white person) as I got out of my car. The little ones not old enough for school yet who do know me came up to the car looking for a balloon or lollipop. This is where I stopped them all and told them that I have a name and it is not “Mulungo” but “Mama Terri” and that if anyone ever wanted a balloon or lollipop from me again, I had better not hear the word “Mulungo” ever again! They watched in silence as I walked away, for sure pondering what just happened.

Before I went into the gate of Sunshine House 2, I stopped by to visit with one of my very favorite people who always brings an instantaneous huge grin to my face. Next to Sunshine House 2 lives a little old lady that I call my vovo (grandmother). She is utterly adorable. She is all of 4 feet tall. She wears a black shirt with a skull and cross bones on it…this cracks me up and endears her to me even more! She doesn’t even know how old she is, nor does anyone in her family. Her brown eyes have turned a bright blue over the many years. Her brown skin is wrinkled with age. She speaks a tribal language from the area she come from, so no one can even understand her, nor can she understand us. But that doesn’t keep us from communicating. I adore this little old woman. 

Her face lights up when she sees me and we exchange the biggest of hugs. Who needs words when you have hugs? Yet when I arrived today, she was hurriedly putting something into the small fire that was cooking their morning porridge. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I looked at my vovo and exclaimed, “Voce fuma cigarros?” (You smoke cigarettes?) She looked at me sheepishly, like a small child, and nodded yes. And we both burst out laughing until we were crying! This resulted in her whole family joining us in laughter. This in turn drew the attention of everyone around…what a scene it was!

I composed myself, gave my vovo one last hug, told her to not smoke anymore as it was bad, bad, bad for her health, and went in to greet the darling group of 15 children at Guida’s community project. As is customary with school children in Mozambique, they have been taught to stand when an adult enters and greet them with a little memorized group of lines. Each of these children are so adorable in their own unique way; they are God’s gift to me. Yet today, there was an additional little girl amongst them as well as an older woman sitting by the house. Guida pulled me over and introduced me to Maria. She is the grandmother on the mother’s side of 6 year old Maura, who was then brought over to join us. 

Maria shared with me that Maura is an orphan. Her father abandoned her mother when she was pregnant and her mother died only 2 months ago. Maura now lived with an elderly grandfather on Maura’s father’s side of the family. He is not able to take care of himself, let alone a little girl. The neighbors have been bringing her food to keep her from starving. Maria came at the grandfather’s request to ask us to take Maura into our care. This is one of those moments I now have at times where I cannot believe I am living here and experiencing these things. I sit here, a privileged white woman from a small town in America, next to an orphaned child who lost her mother only two months ago. A child who is suffering and alone in the world. And I look down at her, and she looks up at me with her big brown eyes, and I fall helplessly, hopelessly in love with her. I want to take her in and make sure that she is never left abandoned or suffers again. Yet, I know I first have some hoops to jump through to get the proper permissions granted. The process to give Guida guardianship of Maura has started and I am really hopeful that she will be able to move into our second Sunshine House by Christmas.

After my lesson was taught and the craft completed, it was time to head back to Sunshine House 1 to do my lesson and craft with Zelda’s project children. As I walked out to my car, all the children returned…this time chanting “Mama Terri” as I drove away. Memo to self…buy lots of lollipops for the next trip in!

I arrived at Sunshine House 1 and entered the gate. Again I was greeted by a group of little ones, welcoming me to their project. Yet this time, we were missing a child. Juis was not to be seen. He is our littlest guy. In the beginning of the year, he was very quiet and shy, but he has grown to be the life of the project. Zelda shared with me that the day before, instead of going  home, he wandered off. He was not found until the next morning allllllllll the way down near the grocery store, Spar! That was at least 2 miles away! He had spent the night sitting on a rock. The police found him just that morning! Be still my heart! Our poor little Juis! Countless numbers of children go missing in Mozambique each year. They even have a TV segment each day where a man stands at a podium showing photos of missing children and giving out a phone number to call if you have seen the child.

Just as Zelda finished recounting the story to me, the gate slowly slid open and Juis poked his head in, giving us a shy smile, seeming to know that we were talking about him.  We were never quite so happy to see him. He was slathered in big hugs from us all. Once we settled down, I completed the lesson and craft with the children and began to say my goodbyes until next week. As I turned to leave, one child came up and wrapped her arms around my legs. This led to another and another all coming forward to hug me goodbye. This was a new development. These children don’t have many encounters with white people, and for most of the year, they have been quite hesitant about me and who I am. This was a wonderful breakthrough for us and it warmed my heart.

Now it was time to visit my other vovos, Theresa and Bento. They live on the other side of the Matola Santos community. Theresa is the mother, and she is just plain old. Bento is her son, and it appears he has had a stroke and cannot use one side of his body. Neither one can walk and they have no means of taking care of themselves. Each day, they drag themselves out of their little houses to sit …Theresa sits in the shade under a tree and Bento sits in his front doorway. We provide a meal for them twice each week as well as daily tea and sugar. The funny part here is that we discovered we must divide the tea and sugar giving each one half. In the beginning, we gave the month’s supply to Bento, assuming he would share with his mother. We assumed wrong. She finally tattled on him one day, telling us he kept it all to himself! Shame on you, Bento! 

I do love sitting and visiting with these two lovely people. Bento’s speech is slurred and Theresa only speaks the tribal Shongan language (of which I know maybe 10 phrases), but that’s okay. We just like each other’s company. I do know how to ask, “How are you” in Shongan, and Theresa always does a dance with her arms as she sits on the ground to show me that she is as fit as ever. Bento can understand my “American-Portuguese” that I speak to him and I pretend that I understand what he says back to me.  Ha ha! Our visit came to a close and I left to head home, looking forward to an ice cold Coca Cola after a long, hot day.

I only drove a short way before I encountered Vovo Theresa and Bento’s neighbor, a young woman named Bia, who had been recently widowed only a month ago. According to cultural tradition, she must wear only black for one year. She was dressed carrying her little boy, Candido, with her. Candido is terribly afraid of me. Not only am I white, but I also treated his badly burned leg and foot a year ago. It was a painful process of soaking off the blackened skin twice each week and bandaging it until I returned to do it again. Every time he sees me, he screams and runs the other way!  Needless to say, he was not happy to see me stop to chat with his mother. He didn’t scream, but he did pull back into her arms as far as he could and stared me down with wide eyes that shouted, “Don’t come any closer or I will scream!” This was the first time I had seen Bia since her husband’s death. I shared my condolences with her and she shared with me the horrible events of his passing after being badly burned on his chest, neck and face while on the job. His company refused to give him medical treatment or to give him money to go seek it out. They were too poor to afford the treatment, and he died. Bia’s sweet eyes filled with tears as she retold me of his suffering. She is now a 27 year old widow with a 7 year old girl, Amina, and 1 1/2 year old Candido. I asked her if I could pray for her, and she accepted. It was a privilege. Then I offered Candido a lollipop, and he accepted it from my hand! Bia and I were thrilled! Our short visit ended on a good note, but still, I drove away with such a heavy heart for this dear young woman.

This day left me with a lot to think about and a lot to celebrate. I miss home so very much. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my family and my life back in the US. I have no doubt that God gives me days like this one to center me and remind me that I am an important part of what He is doing here. I am humbled to be just a small part of His work.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Reason to Carry On

Usually my writings are about my work in the communities, but this one is focusing on a very new topic for me…the workers at our company, Sunshine Nut. They really and truly are the main reason Don and I came to Mozambique. We came to provide adults with dignity, hope and opportunity by giving them jobs. Working with people can be hard. They can disappoint you. Sometimes they break your heart. At times, they literally turn on you. It is important that we take the good with the bad, but that we focus on the good. Otherwise, we can lose our hope in humanity.

A few recent glimpses have shown me that our work has not been in vain. They have restored my inspiration, at a time when I really needed to be rejuvenated. Let me share these glimpses with you…

Our employees were recently working A LOT of overtime to get a container filled with cashews and on the water to America. They were working 6 days a week. When it came to crunch time the week before the shipping date, they were even working from 6:00 in the morning to 7:00 in the evening. They were exhausted, but continued to press forward. I joined them in the factory one day to add an extra hand. I was assigned the task of putting labels on the boxes. We always play music in the factory over our speaker system. It adds a jovial air to the work. At any given time, a particular favorite song will come on that livens up everyone. A Mozambican song came on late in the afternoon that caused quite a ruckus as the entire workforce erupted into song and dance at their work stations. It was electric and joyful. This is why we came to Mozambique. We came to provide hope. This moment in time gave me hope too.

We recently hired 6 new employees from the community. I sat in on the interviews. The candidates who came in were so broken. They could barely look you in the eye. They sat with their heads down and their legs shaking. I thought a few were going to cry. They came wearing their best clothing but still it had tears and stains on it. For most, this was the first job interview they had ever attended. These were people who never had been given anything by anyone. No one ever gave them a uniform to go to school. No one ever gave them medication when they were sick. No one ever offered them sweeties and presents. They came from very poor families where they had to fight to attain anything in their lives. I was in the office last week when one of these new employees came in to fetch her first paycheck…and it was a nice one too because of all the overtime they had worked. We looked out the window as she walked away and saw her break into a dance, waving the paycheck in the air with her head held high. This is exactly why we came to Mozambique.  We came to provide opportunity. This moment in time gave me opportunity too…the chance to see how our efforts have helped others.  

This afternoon I drove into the industrial park where our factory is located. As I came down the road, I passed two groups of our employees who were leaving at the end of the day. They were all dressed up, walking along and laughing together. We exchanged waves and smiles as I passed by. Ahead of me a pair of people caught my eye because they were out on the road. A young man was using his phone to take a photo of a young lady posing so that the industrial park was her background. It was two of our newly hired employees. They were taking photos of each other showing that they worked here in the park. They wanted others to know they had work. Having a job gives people pride and independence. This is why we came to Mozambique. We came to provide dignity.  This moment in time brought me dignity too…I was proud of what we have been able to provide.   

Tonight, I am feeling so very thankful. I needed just a nugget of something to incent me to carry on. I got not just one nugget but was spoiled with three. And three is way better than one!