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....

Saturday, August 14, 2021

They Are Worth It All

When we take new children into our Sunshine Houses, I typically come home and write a blog right away about the experience. It is my way of processing my emotions from the day and wrapping my head around it all. For sure, bringing an orphaned child home and placing him into one of our families is a cause for celebration. But the process of doing this…hearing their sad story (which is usually shared with us right in from of the child as he sits with his eyes downcast), seeing the poor conditions they were existing in, and simply sitting alongside a child who has been abandoned and discarded…is emotionally draining. Yet the experience I had in accepting our 3 newest children was one that was so difficult, I could not even write about it. I have had to dwell on it, let it sink in, and watch with my own eyes to see the children transform to flourishing in our care before I could put it on paper. 

 In April 2021, my colleague and I were taken to visit three orphaned children living in our local community. We were told they were three girls, ages 13, 11, and 9. The representatives with us from Accao Social did not even know where their house was. But when we arrived at the market located near their home and began to ask the locals for directions to their house, literally everyone there knew of the “suffering children” and where they lived. A woman who sold charcoal at her stand agreed to accompany us and show us the way to the girls’ house. 

 We arrived and were faced with a 16-year-old boy, Dario, (with hair on his upper lip), a 10-year-old girl, Anabela, who was physically challenged and could not walk, and an 8-year-old boy, Ivan, who also had physical limitations, but at least he could walk. Anabela did not even make eye contact with us the whole time we were there. She sat on the ground banging a plastic bottle against the ground over and over and over, leaving me to question if she was also mentally challenged. Ivan was not at all interested in our visit and immediately left to play with friends. Dario was a gracious host and shared their story with us. 



Their mother had fallen ill 3 years ago, when Dario was just 13. He quit school to stay home and care for his mother and younger siblings. After a year filled with great suffering and struggles, their mother died. They had been living with their maternal grandmother, but she was overwhelmed by everything and abandoned them, going to South Africa and has not returned. No one in the family stepped in to take the children. They continued to live in their grandmother’s house, relying on neighbors to share an occasional meal with them. They would go for days without food. They never knew when they would eat next. They had a roof over their head but nothing else. The area they lived in was not at all secure or safe or clean. They had no one to protect them, nurture them, or provide for them. 

Anabela’s inability to walk started about 4 years ago. She developed a sore behind her knee. It was painful to walk, so she started to crawl. This happened at the same time that the mother became sick. Because everyone’s attention went to caring for the mother and then dealing with her death and funeral, Anabela was not given any treatment or attention. Her feet are now in a “ballerina position” pointing straight and her leg muscles have not properly developed. Because she has spent her life on the ground, she has difficulty even maintaining her balance while sitting in a chair.

                              

Ivan walks/waddles with his legs straight. He can, however, easily bend his knees and go up and down stairs with no difficulty. From what we can determine, the root problem comes from his hips. So he can walk, but he cannot run and play with his peers. Dario didn't know what would have been the cause for this. 

We were so taken aback by all of this. It was totally unexpected. We left really struggling over the situation. We literally felt numb…not knowing what to say and certainly not knowing what to do for these children. We felt guilty that our first response was that we could not help with these children. How does a person see such a situation and then just walk away from it? 

Our Sunshine Approach Foundation creates families by pairing a widowed woman with 4-5 orphaned children. We provide a home, monthly living expenses, full assistance with medical and educational needs, as well as guidance and supervision for the mothers and children. We did not in any way have the capability to care for these 3 children. The oldest boy, Dario, was too old for our program. His sister’s, Anabela, and brother’s, Ivan, physical challenges were daunting. We have no experience in helping such children. We do not have the necessary equipment or the "know how" to help such children have access to life. Finally, when one takes on a child who cannot walk, they are taking on the care of that child for life! But again, we were left with the question…how can we not help them? Because it was very clear that no one was going to intervene.

We decided to move slowly and do what we could for them. We started by visiting and bringing food and clothing. We went back to see the children the very next day. Ivan met us at the car and welcomed us with a big hug. He went from being completely uninterested in our presence to showing affection to us. Anabela was down the street with friends. When she spotted us, she literally came racing down the road on her hands and knees, crawling to meet us. She was moving so quickly that there was a cloud of dust behind her. My heart leaped inside my chest…she could move! If she could make such agile use of her hips, knees, legs, arms, etc…could she be taught to walk again??? 

 Dario welcomed us to their home once again. This time, he took us inside to show us where they live. The “windows” were all closed up with cement blocks. There was no light or air in the house. The three children shared a double bed to sleep in. They had a small charcoal braai to cook food on…in fact Dario had just lit the charcoal to cook their meal for the day. We left them with food and some warm clothing and went on our way. 


Still the question lingered, how could we help them? I strongly felt that we could not abandon these children. But I was scared. What would our future be like with these children in our care. If you take on a child that cannot walk, you are taking that child on for life. Our mission is to raise up our Sunshine children to lead independent lives as active, contributing members in their communities. How would we find a mother who would be willing to care of Anabela? In Mozambique, handicaps of any kind are considered to be a curse on the person and on their family. Most women would not have the physical capacity to assist a 10-year-old child with their daily needs. But then to deal with the social stigma as well would be a lot to ask of her. And what was Dario really like? He was 16 years old! What kind of friends did he hang out with? What bad habits had he developed being on his own with no adult supervision or guidance for 3 years? He could be a huge problem for us. 

I continued to feel we could not do nothing. But I also felt peace in God confirming to me to move slowly. And so we did. 

The more we learned about Dario, the more we fell in love with him. He stayed home with his siblings and cared for them during his mother's illness. He returned to school after his mother's death and is now in 6th grade. His whole life consisted of going to school and caring for Anabela and Dario. He is the one who bathed them, washed their clothes, cooked their meals, and protected them. While visiting with him, we learned that he has no friends because all of his time is spent caring for his siblings. When asked if he ever goes out, he replied that he rarely does, and that when he does, he cannot stop thinking about his sister and brother and wondering if they were okay. Dario willingly gave his life and sacrificed for his family. He has a heart of gold! 

As we went through this lengthy process, these children never left my thoughts. They were my last thought upon going to sleep at night and my first thought upon waking in the morning. One morning as I woke, I felt God giving me assurance that Anabela would walk again. I also felt that He would confirm this to me in 3 ways. I got up to begin my daily devotional and prayer time. I opened my first prayer book, “90 Days of Power Prayers”…it began with Matthew 19:29- “But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, ‘With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.’” Wow! Confirmation #1. I even took a photo of it with my phone so as not to forget. After praying over this, I went on to my second book, “Praying for Your Husband” …it began with Mark 10:27- “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.’” Confirmation #2!! I was on a roll! 

At this time, I was reading through the book of Romans, one chapter each day, and journaling on each one. On this day, I was on Romans 11. I opened my Bible fully expectant for my third confirmation. To my disappointment, this chapter was about the Gentiles being grafted in with the Israelites to God’s kingdom. Hmmm...not what I was looking for. I went on with my day, showering and heading out to work. As I went through the day, I wanted to believe Anabela would walk again, but I also felt I could not truly believe it without that third confirmation. I came home at the end of the day questioning if I truly did hear from God and starting to doubt. I sat down and began mindlessly scrolling through Facebook when I came upon a post by a friend in London. She wrote, “I so needed this reminder today…and maybe you need it too!!!” She posted a quote by Corrie Ten Boom, “The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God’s realm where everything is possible. Nothing is too great for His almighty power. Nothing is too small for His love.” Confirmation #3!!! Time to pray and move forward! 

I connected with a friend who is a physical therapist. She agreed to meet with Anabela and give us her opinion on her condition. We traveled to her office in nearby Maputo. The trip in the car gave me the opportunity to talk with Anabela and get to know her better. This little girl in no way has any mental restrictions. She was engaging and fun! She loves the beach, even though she has never been there. She very much wants a talking doll like the one she saw on television. When she grows up, her dream is to move away and live in a big city. Over the time I have known her, I can attest to the fact that Anabela is the most happy, joyful child I have ever met. She loves to play, smile, and dance. She is easy going and just plain happy. 

As my friend, Geraldine, poked, prodded, moved and adjusted Anabela, I rejoiced at every comment she made. She said that her feet are still soft and pliable. That she had good movement in her feet and hips. She concluded that with therapy, daily exercises done at home, the use of a standing frame and splints, it is very possible that Anabela can walk again! Immediate tears of joy filled my eyes. Those were some of the sweetest words I had ever heard! It will not be easy or inexpensive. The exercises Anabela must endure several times each day are painful and she cries. But we promised her that if Geraldine sees improvement at each consult, she will get that talking doll for her very own. Also, because Geraldine's office is not far from the beach, she will get rewarded with a stop at the beach after each appointment. These external rewards will indeed encourage her to work hard, but Anabela has a strong will to walk again. It is something she wants for herself. Therefore, I believe in her!


As a result of this consult, I posted on Facebook looking for someone who could make a standing frame for us to use in Anabela’s therapy. Connections that only God could orchestrate started to pour in! First a missionary acquaintance in nearby Machava contacted me. Her and her husband operate a ministry for the physically challenged. They could provide a walker and a standing from for Anabela. Then a woman who recently moved to Mozambique from South Africa contacted me. She is an orthotist and offered her help. At the same time, unbeknownst to either of us, Geraldine, the physical therapist, and this same woman had already connected regarding working together to treat Anabela using splints to straighten out her feet! Everything and everyone we would need to help Anabela began to fall into place! 

About a month after meeting the children, I sensed that we were to move and move immediately in taking these children. I began to ponder over which of our current mothers would be willing to accept and raise these children. I conducted by own informal poll and separately asked my colleague, Delcio, my husband and my son who they thought would be a good mom. Each of them gave me the same name, and this confirmed by initial thought…Zelda. 

Those of you who have read my blogs before know of Zelda. She was our first Sunshine mother. She has been with us for almost 8 years now caring for Cecilia, Madalena and Antonio. She is an absolute treasure and I often call her my angel. Delcio and I met with Zelda and shared the story of the children. We asked her to consider caring for them. We committed to walking alongside her and supporting her with this. We concluded by telling her that this was a big decision, we did not expect an answer right away, but we wanted her to take the time to think and pray before accepting. At this point, Zelda, who had been silent and had shown absolutely no expression on her face, held up her hand and stopped us. She said, “I do not need any more time to think or pray. I will accept these children.” Delcio and I burst into tears! (Delcio and I have done a lot of crying lately!) She then went home to discuss all of this with her three children at home as they too will play an important role as siblings. All three gladly agreed to accept Dario, Anabela and Ivan into their family! (Cue more tears!)

We moved into action planning and constructing an additional bedroom added onto Zelda’s house. We also turned her veranda into a kitchen, thus doubling the size of the living room. For three weeks, her house was a complete mess! What seemed like a simple, easy project turned out to be much more of a task than we had expected. Again, Zelda has been a complete saint…living in the dust and dealing with the daily confusion and noise. And she even took in the children before it was completed! So there were 6 children living with her in a two bedroom, torn apart house. They barely had room to move around, and so spent most of their days outside! 


At this point, the Beacon of Hope program entered my mind. I love everything about this program and its focus on raising up men of God! This is a three-year program operated the past 20 years by Angie Wheeler, a newly acquired friend of mine, in nearby Machava. They accept 12 teenaged boys every three years and provide them with all they need to grow into godly, responsible, independent young men. In a world where the social impact focus is on women and girls, I feel for the men and boys. Who is there to teach them and raise them up to be strong, responsible, loving, protective, godly leaders in their households and their cultures? I agree that the rights of women and girls must be developed and protected and that their position in many cultures must be elevated. But I also believe that if there is no attention given to training our young boys to be good men, any culture is going to be “half” and sorely lacking. 

 I knew that the program at Beacon of Hope had started operating again back in January. It was now May. I assumed that by now, the program was full and running smoothly. I assumed Dario would not be accepted into the program at this point. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Beacon of Hope and how perfect it would be for Dario. He never had a male role model in his household because his father abandoned the family when he was very young. Beacon of Hope has a staff that includes godly, male role models that Dario can look up to and learn from. Dario was only 16 and for years had been carrying the weight of his mother’s death and the care of his siblings. Dario was only a child when he took on all of this responsibility. He never had the privilege of being a carefree child and enjoying friends. Beacon of Hope would take the burden of these responsibilities off Dario’s shoulders. It would allow him to have friends and the camaraderie of brothers-in-Christ. Dario had fallen behind in school. Beacon of Hope would provide the tutoring he needed to catch up to his peers. Dario attended a local church when he was able, but his attendance was spotty at best. Beacon of Hope would provide him with daily spiritual teaching and guidance. But…I assumed it would be too late to get Dario into the program. 

I avoided calling Angie, even though I knew she would be extremely kind in turning us down. Finally, I felt God clearly pushing me to call Angie, so I decided to contact her. I cheated a bit and sent her a text message. I figured it would be easier to get the rejection in writing. I sent the text and within 30 seconds I got a call from Angie. I answered the phone and she immediately said, “So tell me about Dario.” After listening, she said she felt that they would be able to accept one more boy into the program but that she would have to discuss it with her staff and get back to me. She called me later that day and said the staff agreed and Dario was welcome! 

It was a frustratingly long and painful process to get these three children into our care. Social Action was not cooperative or caring about their horrible situation. After writing and submitting our letter of acceptance, it took 1 ½ months for them to complete the process. Once the process was completed, it sat on the director’s desk for 3 weeks until she signed it. Once she signed it, it took 2 weeks to get her letter of permission to release a social worker to accompany us to place the children in our home. We did our best during this time…bringing the children food and calling Social Action every single day. Our hearts hurt so much for these children. We wanted to help them, but our hands were tied. The case workers at Social Action were weary of our calls and badgering on the behalf of these children, but they were worth the fight. On July 1st, we finallyyyyyyy got the needed letter of permission to go with a case worker and move the children into our Sunshine House! 


 Dario is now flourishing at Beacon of Hope! He lives there in a dorm with 12 other boys, but on his school holidays, he will come live at our first Sunshine House. On a recent holiday visit, I asked him what is his favorite thing about Beacon of Hope. He thought for a moment and with a huge grin on his face replied, “Everything!” 

Anabela continues with her physical therapy. The daily exercises are grueling for her, but she submits to them, knowing they will help her to walk again. She is being schooled at home by Zelda (with help from her new siblings). 

She loves to play with dolls, sing and dance. Just today, we took Dario back to resume his studies at Beacon of Hope, but this time, Anabela did not cry. She feels safe and loved where she is living, and she knows that Dario will come back. 


Ivan has been enrolled in first grade at the local school. He has made many friends around the house. He is very good-natured and easy-going. Therefore, he has made friendships quickly. Once we have progress with Anabela's treatment, we will start physical therapy for Ivan.

God is indeed the defender of the oppressed and the fatherless. He saw Dario, Anabela and Ivan in their need. He had a plan for their lives. He is using the Sunshine Approach Foundation and Beacon of Hope to bring Dario, Anabela and Ivan into the full potential of His purpose for them! He is a good Father! On his recent holiday break, Delcio and I took Dario to the cemetery to put flowers on his mother’s grave. Before we left, we bowed our heads as he prayed. He told his mother that he loved her and knew she was in a good place in heaven. He thanked her for sending Delcio and me to care for them. Yet again, Delcio and I were in tears. We do not take our work for granted, and we are thankful, so very very thankful to have the privilege to be a part of every life God has entrusted to our care.




Friday, April 30, 2021

Forgotten No More

Can you even imagine being in this situation…your father has died. Then your mother dies, leaving you orphaned. You have no extended family to take you in. You have nowhere to go. You have no one to look after you. You are only 11 years old. And you have the responsibility of your 9-year-old sister. You have no identity because you have no documents, not even a birth certificate. You and your sister are taken by the police to a transitional children’s center. Here children are placed for a short time while representatives from Social Action search for your family. But they find no one for you. They search for an orphanage to place you in. But all of the orphanages are either full or they don’t take in older children. So, you remain at this center… watching other children come and go after being reunited with family or taken in by an orphanage. You wait and you wait for someone to come for you. But no one comes. Each day, you wake up, make your bed, shower and complete your chores. The rest of your day is spent waiting. You cannot go to school and study. You don’t go to church. The only time you leave the walls surrounding the center are when you are sick and must go for a consult at the hospital. No one thinks of you. No one cares about you. No one loves you best of all. 

 This was what Faustino and Beatriz lived for two years. They were forgotten. No one even really knew they existed. They did develop a friendship with another boy with a similar story. France arrived at this transitional center around the same time when he was 10 years old. He was born in South Africa and his Mozambican mother brought him back to Mozambique. She died leaving him orphaned with no family. So, France waited for a placement somewhere along with Faustino and Beatriz day after day. 

I cannot even comprehend the helplessness and hopelessness of being abandoned and left like these children. We don’t think about such things because we do not ever come into direct face-to-face contact with such children. In fact, those of us living in the first-world nations will probably never in our lifetime even meet an orphaned child. We go about our lives never giving much, if any thought, to orphaned and abandoned children. Let me tell you from personal experience, it is life altering to meet such children. It changes your whole outlook on life and what is important. Even after 10 years of working with orphaned and abandoned children, I still am emotionally devastated each time a new child is brought to my attention.  

It was heart wrenching to sit across from Faustino, Beatriz and France at a cement table and listen to their stories. Their greatest desire was to attend school. Faustino's dream is to work and have a job. Beatriz wants to be a teacher. France dreams of being a pastor. Their soft brown eyes took me in. The downcast expression on their faces conveyed their thoughts. They thought we also would not want them. They thought we also would leave them at this center and forget about them as we went on with our lives. But they thought wrong. They were about to have their whole world transformed. 


 Having heard their stories, we shared our story with the children. We explained who we were and why we were there. We invited them to come with us to be raised in one of our Sunshine Houses as a part of our family. Each one gave us a blank stare. We repeated to them that they were welcome if they chose to come. They stared back in disbelief. They looked at each other. They looked again at us. Again we told them they were welcome to come with us. This time, they responded and they eagerly accepted. Yet they still sat on the cement bench and didn’t move. So, we told them to go pack their belongings and say their goodbyes to the people who had cared for them at the center. They looked at us, looked at each other, and looked back at us again…and like the shot of a gun, they were off! Up they went to hug their primary caretaker and shake hands with the men who were the groundskeepers of the center, all of whom were seated within hearing distance following our entire conversation. The children headed off to pack, their primary caregiver right on their heels trying to keep up…brushing tears from her eyes.


 Each child showered and dressed in their best outfit and emerged from the dormitory with fully stuffed book bags. The children were offered lunch but not one of them was able to eat. They were too excited to go. After they returned their still full plates to the kitchen, we took a group photo before heading to the car. 


 Their primary caretaker walked with them all the way and helped to load them in the van, tears in her eyes. 


We reassured her, sharing that she had cared for them well and it was evident that she loved them. We promised her we would continue her good care for them. Satisfied, she moved away from the van and joined the group of men seeing them off. We waved goodbye to the group and began the hour trip back to Matola. 


 The children chattered together in the back of the van during the trip. I couldn’t understand what they were saying as they were speaking in Shongan. Again, I tried to imagine what they must be thinking and feeling. For sure, they were excited. The tone of their voices and the broad smiles on their faces every time I turned around to take a peek at them revealed this. As we arrived in Matola and began the drive through the community to their new home, it got very quiet in the back of the van. No one was speaking anymore. Reality was setting in. 

 We arrived at their home and were greeted first by Antonio, the little boy who lives at our first Sunshine House. He heard we were bringing children and wanted to be the first to meet them. I am sure he was happy to see two boys emerge from the van. Antonio, Vicente and Helio are for sure outnumbered by the 9 other girls in our houses. No sooner had Antonio greeted them than their new mother, Catarina, appeared around the corner of the wall. She was beaming! She had been waiting for two months for children to fill her home. She greeted each child with a kiss on each cheek as praised God for bringing these children to her. 


We proceeded to show the children the house and to make up their beds with fresh, new linens. Antonio was right there helping us with the work, but the three new children were drawn to the television in the living room…a very new and alluring attraction for them. The time arrived for us to leave Catarina and the children so they could get to know each other and spend their first night together as a family. Smiles were still plastered on every face but one…Faustino. His face was blank. He was doing his best to stay strong, but soon the tears began to stream down his sweet cheeks. I sat next to him with my arm around him consoling him, encouraging him, and loving him. I am so thankful he had his sister and his friend with him. They are a huge support to each other, so I asked them both do their best to help him adjust. We took a family photo and left the family to their evening. 


 These children and their new mother were in my continual thoughts for the remainder of the evening. I woke up at 3 am thinking of them again. So, I got up and prayed for them and all that is ahead of us. First thing this morning, I headed to their house excited to see how they were. As I parked my car, they all came running out to greet me. In fact, I couldn’t even get out of the car. They all tumbled in with smiles and greetings. They were joined by Madalena, Antonio’s sister at the first house. Like Antonio, she wanted to get to know the new children. Our Sunshine children are one big extended family. They may live in different houses, but they are brothers and sisters and support one another in the most beautiful ways.  

Catarina caught me up with how the night went. The two younger children went to bed early, exhausted from the full day they had. She then had the opportunity to sit on the sofa with Faustino and watch a film on television. It was quality time that left him feeling full and ready to sleep. All three children slept soundly and woke up to a new day and a new life ahead of them. 

 Faustino, Beatriz and France are no longer alone. They now are part of a family. They will grow up knowing they are a part of not only our Sunshine family, but they are part of God’s family. They will know that they have a heavenly Father who will never leave them or forsake them. They have a heavenly Father who saw them and their needs. He kept them just for us. They are now our treasures. We are three children richer today. These precious children are forgotten no more.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Our Newest Treasure

This sweet girl is the newest member of our Sunshine Family. Her name is Virginia, but she goes by the nickname Ginoca. Ginoca joined our family in December 2020. In the short time we have known her, we are truly astounded by the strong character of this little girl. She is going to go far in life. 


 Ginoca did not have an easy start to life. Her mother abandoned her and her father when she was just a baby. There is no record of her birth, so we don’t know her birthday or her age. Social Action assigned her a birth date of January 1, 2013, making her now 8 years old. She has never attended school. Her father abused her and then intimidated her into keeping quiet by saying that he would kill her if she told anyone. But our Ginoca was brave, and she did speak up… she told the local chefe. The chefe contacted the police, and they moved right into action removing Ginoca from the home and putting the father in jail where he is awaiting a trial. Social Action felt she would do better in a family-care setting, so they contacted our Sunshine Approach Foundation to place her in one of our homes. 

 I was in the United States visiting family at the time, so my husband, Don, and our son, William, joined my colleague, Delcio, in going to the orphanage in Machava. When our crew arrived, they were invited to sit outside in the shade of a tree while they talked with the orphanage’s nurse. As they were talking, a little girl came up, looked them over, and exclaimed, “Eles sao bonitos!” (They are beautiful!) 


My husband asked who this girl was, and the nurse informed him that this was the little girl they came to see. They thought they were just going to meet her… yet when she came out to meet them carrying her book bag packed up with all of her belongings and the nurse handed them a file with her documentation, they realized she was coming home with them…that very day! After the papers were signed, they climbed into the car and began the trip to Matola. 


 Throughout the whole experience, my husband was impressed by Ginoca. He expected to meet a shy, withdrawn, scared little girl. Ginoca instead was positive, outgoing, friendly and confident. On their way to Matola, they stopped at a local store and took Ginoca to the toy aisle. Don showed her all the rows and rows of dolls and told her she could pick any one she wanted… except for the one that was as tall as she was!!! Ginoca took about 10 minutes to carefully survey each doll in each row, and in the end chose the one to her liking. The doll was paid for and they continued on to her new home where she was welcomed into her new family. 


 That evening, Don and William called me to inform me that they had come to the decision that they were switching jobs with me. They would now run the foundation and I would run the factory. The day impacted them greatly, and they felt it was the most rewarding day of their life. My response, “No way!” But I did tell them they are welcome to join me in my work any day they would like. 

 Ginoca now lives with her new mother, Ilda, and her new 4 siblings, Virginia, Nina, Vicente and Helio. She became an immediate member of the family with the girls putting new braids in her hair, her brothers showing her how to get around the neighborhood, and Ilda teaching her the chores she would be expected to complete as a part of the family. She loves to play with dolls and can usually be found laughing and giggling with her sisters in their bedroom. She is inquisitive and curious. When we gather together every Sunday for our “Igrejinha”, our name for our children’s church attended by our Sunshine children, she sits in her chair with her face set like stone on whoever is sharing the message that day. She carries herself well and displays the best of manners. She is an all-around amazing young lady. 


 Today was the first day of school in Mozambique. Our schools have been closed since the start of the Covid restrictions in March 2020. For Ginoca, it was her first first-day of school ever! She never had the opportunity to attend school. So she will start at the beginning in grade 1. As we expected, she is not put off by this. She was ready to go and excited for what lies ahead of her. It was such a privilege and honor to take her to school today. I warned her ahead of time that Mama Terri would be taking many photos and there may even be some tears involved. She just smiled and gave me a warm hug. 


 As we drove to the school, I came to the realization of how popular she is in the community. Many other girls shouted out her name and called to her as we drove past. Ginoca responded to each girl with warm greetings and waves. I felt like I was chauffeuring a celebrity in my car! 

 At the school, I was more nervous than she was! She entered with confidence and security. 


We found her classroom and introduced her to her new teacher. After yet another photo, this time with her teacher, Delcio told me that it was time to go. 


 We mothers know that feeling of leaving our children behind on their first day of school. We look back again and again as we exit the classroom making sure that our child is okay. Our hearts feel like they are being torn in two and our eyes are welled up with tears. We think of a million things we have forgotten to tell them and remind them of. I felt all of these things as I left her room. She, however, was just fine. She sat in her little desk with a look of complete calm on her face. 

 So now I sit at home, waiting for a call from her mother, Ilda, to let me know she is back home. I’m waiting to hear her tell me how her day was. I’m anxious to know every detail. But we mothers know what I will hear. I will ask her how her day was, and she will respond like every other child. She will simply answer, “Good.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Boxes of Support and Sunshine

2020 has been a year with more than its fair share of challenges. Every one of us has been affected in one way or another. Every one of us has had our limits tested physically, spiritually, socially, and emotionally. Every one of us has dealt with some kind of loss. 2020 has stretched us, grown us, and taught us a lot. While I think we all would agree that we would not want to repeat this past year, I also believe that we would also say that we would not want to trade away what we have learned. As 2020 draws to a close, and I reflect back on the events of this year, what stands out for me the most is how people have rallied together to support each other. I love hearing the stories of people caring for their neighbors and family members in need. What I love even more is how people are even moved to support those they do not know. I had a first-hand experience with this. 

Our company and foundation occasionally will put out a call for assistance. We don’t do this too often; only when there is a pressing need and people are suffering, like when Mozambique was devastated by a cyclone. When we put out requests for donations for such causes, we truly are overwhelmed by the goodness that pours out of people. 

When the COVID restrictions were imposed in Mozambique, our thoughts and attentions immediately turned to the many families in our impoverished communities where our Sunshine Houses are located. We serve many of these families through our Beacons of Light community projects for at-risk, vulnerable children. How would these families, who were already living below the extreme poverty line, be able to survive with the little opportunity they had? We watched to see how they would fare. After only a month of seeing them endure the restrictions that made it difficult for them to make a living and provide for their families, we decided it was time to intervene. 

Our company and foundation are very much against hand-outs. Hand-outs create dependency and entitlement. We exist to give people a hand-up. But there are times when people do need support, times when they cannot lift themselves up. We knew that we had the capacity to come alongside the struggling families in our community where we live and work. Yet we were concerned about how it would affect our budget and ability to keep providing for our Sunshine families. This is why we put out personal requests on social media to our family, friends, and supporters to give donations for food boxes. We were hoping to receive enough funds to put together food boxes for the 40 families of the children who attend our community projects. To be honest, we were not expecting a big response. We knew how concerned people were about their own financial stability and security. Yet, we were literally stunned by the outpouring of support. We were able to provide food boxes 70 food boxes in May and 70 more in July! 

Our program administrator, Delcio, and I made multiple trips to the local stores and market to buy the supplies for the boxes. We got a lot of laughs from the expressions on people’s faces as we pushed our overloaded carts to the registers. We hauled carload after carload after carload of purchases to store in our garage. We then worked together to box everything up. The empty boxes from the raw cashews that Sunshine Nut Co purchases were the perfect size for our needs.





Each box contained the basic food essentials for a family, such as rice, beans, porridge, oil, pasta, sugar, tea…as well as soap (thanks to SoapBox Soaps), laundry detergent, toothpaste, toothbrushes (thanks to Humble Smile), and dish soap. AND of course, every food box contained Sunshine Nut Company cashews!!! 

We took the boxes to the ladies who are the mothers at our Sunshine Houses. They are the directors of our community projects. We felt they were the best people to pass out the boxes to ensure that those receiving the boxes would maintain their dignity. Our ladies called upon each family to come to collect a box and were able to also give out boxes to neighbors they knew were in need. They were able to take some photos for us so that we could see the smiles on the faces of the recipients. To say that the families who received boxes were appreciative is an understatement. These boxes literally were the difference in going hungry for these families. In America, it is hard for us to relate to living in a country where there are no support systems, food banks, or government assistance programs available. 






As things get back to normal again, we see that our families have been able to adjust and move forward. Mozambicans are very resilient people. The older generations have lived through a war for independence, civil war, and extreme flooding. They daily face deadly diseases that cause the deaths of their loved ones. They live in a country where they must fight every day just to survive. We were honored and privileged to partner with our caring donors to give them assistance during a time where many would have lost their footing.



Sunday, October 11, 2020

Maria - All She Needed Was A Little Sunshine


When I met Maria, she was like a little flower that had been trampled. All she needed was a little "Sunshine" to enable her to flourish and blossom. I have written two blogs about Maria... "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" (January 26, 2016) and "Maria- Problem Solved" (July 12, 2016). You may want to go back and read them again, but for those of you with little time so spare, here is a quick summary...

Maria lives in the community where our Sunshine Houses are located. We purposely spread our houses out amongst the community so that we can have an impact on the people who live around them. We have helped families with medical needs, educational needs, food, clothing, blankets, shoes and so much more. Maria  has been in our lives for many years. There is something about her that tugs on your heartstrings. Maria has a speech impediment and walks with a limp. At the end of first grade in the public school, she was told she was deficient and could no longer attend school. For the next several years, she attended a preschool run by her neighbor. When Maria reached the age of 11, the director of the preschool said that she was getting a bit too old for preschool. I agreed. I found a local private school where the director was willing to admit her. She began again in grade 1 and has worked her way up to grade 4. We are very proud of her tenacity and positive attitude. She loves going to school to study and be with her friends. Our goal is to keep her in school until she is old enough to find gainful employment. She is now 16 years old.

As with most countries, our schools have been closed during the Covid restrictions. Here in Mozambique, our students only had 1 1/2 months in the classroom this year. They began their academic year in February and schools were closed in March. Except for the most elite of schools and students, online learning is not a possibility. Schools will not reopen this year for the vast majority of children, and students will receive a "free pass" to the next grade when they start their new academic year in February 2021. I am so glad that I had the foresight to hire a teacher to tutor our Sunshine Children, and of course we included our Maria. Thanks to Professor Daniel, they have been able to keep up with their studies. 

The children have been little champs about attending tutoring, doing their homework, and having a great attitude these past months. I am proud of their efforts. I wanted to encourage them to not grow weary and wanted to find a way to incentivize them to keep on "keeping on". Last week, I shared with them that we are starting a "Student of the Week" program. Each week, Professor Daniel will choose a student who has been exemplary in being punctual to tutoring, respectful to him and others, and has shown effort in their work. I found gold medals to give each week's winner and made up bags with little prizes and candies. 

I was thrilled when Professor Daniel informed me that out of all the children, his choice for the first student of the week was Maria!!! She is everything I described above and more. She has shown great progress with her maths, her attitude is always positive, and she puts forth her best effort every day. 

Today we gathered together to present the first Student of the Week award. All of the children were excited and curious. They were antsy and fidgeting in their chairs. Each of their little faces showed how hopeful they were that they would be the one chosen. I announced to them that Maria was the winner!

All the children immediately burst into cheers and clapping. Every single child's face shone with genuine smiles. I am confident of this conclusion because I carefully and purposefully looked at each of their faces to check if this was for real. In fact, check it out for yourself in the photo below. All heads were turned and all eyes were on Maria. Take note of Cecilia's smile (in the back right corner) and little Maura peering up at her from behind me...

I couldn't believe it! They were so happy for Maria. Not one child showed disappointment that they were not chosen. It was clear that their joy for Maria was real and authentic. This made me so very proud of them! It was an outcome that I did not even expect to occur. It made this program a double blessing for me. 

I presented Maria with her prize bag and hung the gold medal around her neck as the children continued to celebrate her achievement. As we left at the end of our gathering, they were chatting among themselves about how they were going to work to be the next winner. None of them know who the winner will be. But one thing we are sure of...the winner will be well celebrated!


Monday, September 21, 2020

Making the World's Best to Make the World Better

The Covid restrictions of this past year have been limiting for all of us, but I believe they are even more difficult for our children. For many children in Mozambique, school is the only highlight of their day. Children from every economic background put on their uniform and escape to a place where everyone is on a level playing ground. A place where they can leave their life of poverty and struggle behind. A place where they are valued as a student. A place where they are given the hope of a better life through education. Very few things have grieved my heart these past months than to see children sitting around with sad faces and no purpose to their lives. There is no opportunity for remote, online learning in a poor, developing nation like Mozambique. There is little to no chance that our public schools will even open this year- they lack bathrooms, running water, and space to provide the required social distancing. It appears that our already disadvantaged children will simply get a “free pass” to the next grade after having completed only 1 ½ months of study in their current grade. Thankfully the children in our Sunshine Houses have had more opportunity than their public school colleagues. 

Our Sunshine children have done a stellar job in coping with the isolation these past 6 months. In the beginning, we didn’t let them out of the gate. They had to stay home and play. I recall arriving at our first house to find our Antonio sitting on one side of their 6 foot high protective cement wall talking and laughing with his friend, Ziadi, who was sitting on the other side of the wall. This was their only way to connect. As time passed, we gave our children permission to go play with the children in our other Sunshine Houses. This has melded them together into one big extended family. It is very common to arrive at one house and find children from another house there playing. They are flourishing and happy to have this interaction. Also, we had the foresight to hire a teacher who comes three times a week to tutor them. We are thankful to be able to provide for their academic growth during these times of restriction that are setting so many lives back. So three times a week, they come together for lessons. When they meet up together, they joke, laugh, and tease each other just like a family, but then they always settle down quite nicely when Professor Daniel calls them to class. 

There are not many recreational places to take them to get away from it all, so I have had to be creative. I recently came up with an idea that proved to be a huge, unexpected winner. I brought them out to our Sunshine Nut Co factory for a day. My first objective was to simply get them out of the house and neighborhood for a bit of a respite. My second objective was that they should know how they are being supported. The mission of Sunshine Nut Co and Sunshine Approach Foundation are one mission. I wanted the children to meet the workers who go to work every day and process the cashews sold to support them. I wanted them to see their faces, interact with them, and know them. I also wanted our Sunshine Nut Co workers to meet our children. The children are their reason for working. These two groups of people are also intertwined and inseparable. Our visit to the factory only achieved these objectives and so much more! 

I divided our children into 2 groups so as to make them more manageable…and to fit them into my car! When I arrived to fetch each group, they were ready to go in their best clothes. We arrived at the factory and headed to Papa Don’s office for a Power Point presentation on the company and its purpose. Proud smiles appeared on their faces as they saw their photos interspersed in the slides that Papa Don uses in his talks all of the world.



We then headed into the factory. As with any visitors, we asked them to suit up with a hair net and their masks. The hair nets brought out lots of giggles. 


Our Safety and Health Manager gave them a tour of the factory…starting at the beginning where the cashews arrive, all the way through to the end where they are boxed and taken out to be stored in containers outside. The children were very curious and hung on his every word. 


We assigned them to work alongside our employees in various roles. Our employees went above and beyond my expectations of teaching them a job and coaching them through performing it. They were so kind and encouraging with the children. My heart was encouraged to see these two groups of people come together. We were led here to meet their needs to have opportunity, dignity and a better life. Seeing them come together was an experience for which no words can do justice. 

Our children took their roles very seriously. Whether it was checking the bar codes on the packaging…




Packing our new shippers…




Helping to haul the packed boxes to be wrapped...





Labeling the boxes for shipping…




Or filling the bags…



Each child rose to the occasion and outperformed my expectations…all under the watchful eye and encouragement of our employees.




In fact, when the bell rang for lunch, our children refused to stop their job until it was finished.

We then headed out to the outdoor lapa to enjoy a catered lunch of grilled chicken and fries. 


 

As the day ended, each child received two individual packages of cashews to take home, as well as two packages for their mothers. As you can see by their smiles, they were proud and happy to have had a part in this day. 





Not long after our field trip to the factory, Antonio, one of our children, accompanied me in the car as we took a plumber to get parts to make a repair on the pipes in his house. As we drove to the market, the plumber asked Antonio what he wants to be when he grows up. Without hesitation, Antonio responded, “A worker at Papa Don’s factory.” The plumber looked at him and said, “Oh no! Don’t you want to be a doctor? Or a lawyer? Or an accountant?” Antonio looked at him and calmly responded, “No. I want to be a Sunshine Nut Company worker for Papa Don.” Antonio, it will be our pleasure one day to see you working alongside Papa Don making the world's best cashews to make the world better. You make us proud.