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....

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

How often have you heard someone say, “If what I am doing impacts only one person, then I will be happy”? While we often do say such a thing, deep in our hearts, we want to impact not just one person with our efforts but many, many, many more. We are here in Mozambique to transform  lives.

Remember when you were a gangly little first grade student? You were at the start of heading out into the world…climbing those stairs up onto that school bus for the first time, nervously entering a classroom, meeting a teacher and making new friends from outside of your neighborhood. The year passed by quickly, and you put all you  had into pleasing your teacher and doing your best. At the end of the year, you were proud to bring home your report card to show your parents. You felt such accomplishment at being promoted on to Grade 2. You were on your way! But first grade was not a similar positive experience for one little girl.

Meet Maria.

Maria captured my  affection the very first time I saw her at Berta’s project. She has a smile that endears you to her for forever. She is gentle and sweet to her very core. Her small stature makes you think she is younger than her years, which only makes her more captivating. Every time I see Maria, the song from “The Sound of Music” plays in my head, and I often sing to her, “How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you hold a moon beam in your hand?” This makes us both giggle.

Like every other child her age, Maria attended Grade 1. She is fortunate to live in a complete family with a mother and a father, yet they are very poor. Their only income is the meager amount her father makes selling phone credit on the streets. It was a huge stretch for them to afford the required uniform that would allow her to go to school in their community. The $10 price of this uniform would have been days, if not weeks, of her father’s income. Maria’s year began and progressed the same as any other first grader- she had her first day, she made new friends, she worked hard to please her teacher and do her best work …but her year did not end well. She was told by the school that she was "deficient". That was the exact word they used! And in a country where everyone passes first grade and goes onto second grade, she was told that she may not continue on with her education. The reason…Maria has a speech impediment making it difficult for her to communicate clearly. She is intelligent. She can read. She can write. She can do everything but speak well. For this reason, she was cast aside by the school system.

To keep her from being lost to the streets, Berta has allowed her to attend her project all day for the past three years. This past year, at the age of 10, Maria was a participant in Berta’s preschool program. She came every day and continued her learning alongside the 3, 4 and 5 year olds. Throughout all of this, she never lost her bright smile or her joy. She has now turned 11 years old. Berta realized that keeping her in preschool to infinity and beyond is not helping her and is a burden on her program. She came to me seeking help.

I began looking into possible programs to help students with special needs. None were providing the open door we needed for Maria. They were too far away, and they were too much money for the budget of our newly created foundation. Then a tip from a local children’s center director led us to Escola Luz e Vida (Portuguese for Light and Life School). Escola Luz e Vida is a public school in that it receives funding from the government, but it is private in that the parents pay a small fee for their children to attend. It was started by a Brazilian missionary. While it is not a Christian school, it is run on Christian principles. The director works with the teachers closely and it is a beautiful little campus located not too far away in Matola Rio. The question was…would they accept Maria?
Berta and I took a chance and went out to speak with the director about our Maria. Her first response was that they are not equipped to help special children. As we told her more about Maria, her heart began to soften. Finally, she agreed to allow Maria to attend first grade at the school this year!!!!! Berta and I were elated!!!! 

We immediately began the process of enrolling her. Documents from the family and her previous school had to be hunted down, copied and presented. The registration fee was paid.  A “good, hard” talk was held with her parents about their responsibility in getting her to and from this school because it will require two chapa transport rides to get her there. A friend and employee of our Sunshine Nut Company (whose heart is way bigger than her wallet) went out and purchased all of the books and supplies Maria would need, as well as a beautiful pink book bag to put them in.

Then came today… the day that filled my heart. A lot…no…A LOT of work and time has gone into getting this one little girl into this one little school. At times, I wondered if it was too much time to focus on just one child. There are so many other needs that demand my attention. Yet today put that thought to rest, once and for all. I fetched Maria to take her to the school for the first time. She needed to be measured for her uniform. When I arrived, she had a smile on her face that showed how very excited she was. I don’t think it would have been physically possible for her to have stretched her mouth any further! She climbed up into my car, and I presented her with the beautiful book bag and supplies my friend had purchased for her. She was “over the moon”. Never in her life has she ever had such a treasure. We arrived at the school, and she held my  hand as we entered the gate and walked across the sandy play area to the school office. There we met up with the man who would measure her and sew her uniform for her. She was so nervous, yet his kindness eased her nerves. We paid him, thanked him and hit the road to head home again.

As usual, I am frustrated as I write this blog because my words in relating this experience are lacking the depth and emotion that was felt by us all. Every moment of this journey for this one little girl has been more than worth it. Her life is being transformed before my very eyes. These precious experiences are what makes all we have sacrificed and given up worth it. If we had not come, what would have happened to Maria? What would have happened to the many others whose lives we have been able to touch because of our step of faith as well as the kind and generous support of family and friends. Yes…Don is right…we are here to release the multitudes. And yes…I am also right…we are also here to help the occasional “one” that crosses our path. Whether it be for the many or for the one, we have been called here not to just help but to transform.

I dropped Maria off at home and drove away with a smile on my face that matched hers and a heart that was as full as I hope hers is. Yet today, another song from that “Sound of Music” movie played in my head. The one that says, “So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good!” What did I ever do so good to have been so blessed?!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Xingomana- A Mozambican Experience That Filled My Soul

I have moments when I have to pinch myself and ask, “How did a little girl from a small town in the mountains of Pennsylvania end up here?” I feel this way when I have the thrill of an experience that I cannot believe I am privileged to be enjoying. In such moments, my eyes well with tears of indescribable awe, wonder and joy. These moments do not occur on a regular basis, but when they do, they fuel me to go on further. Our recent attendance at a Xingomana dance festival was one of these amazing experiences.

Our friend, Chude Mondlane, is the daughter of Eduardo Mondlane. She put together a festival of Xingomana dance in his birthplace of Nwadjahane to honor him on what would have been his 95th birthday.  Her father was the founding president of the Freelimo Mozambican Liberation Front which was successful in gaining independence for Mozambique from the Portuguese in 1975. Sadly, he never was able to see this day. He killed in 1969 when a bombplanted in a book that was sent to him exploded. At his funeral, the Reverend Edward Hawley said that he “…laid down his life for the truth that man was made for dignity and self-determination.” He is a revered historical figure in the hearts of all Mozambicans.

It has been her dream to put this festival together. In fact, she has worked for several years to do this. She is an artist herself and desires to preserve the art culture of Mozambique before it is lost. Because of her perseverance, this event was the first annual national competition of Xingomana dance- an event that will continue for the years to come. We wanted to support our friend by attending the event, yet Nwadjahane is a long, long drive away. So we got out of bed and left our home at 3 am to arrive in time for the 8:30 start.

Driving on Mozambican roads is an experience in itself. To do so at night goes beyond comprehension, so we said a prayer for protection and headed off. At one point, we passed an overturned truck that left sacks of cement all over the road. Soon after that, we followed a pick-up truck carrying a full load of passengers in its bed when the rear left wheel and axle came off leaving a stream of orange sparks in its path as it struggled to come to a safe stop. We also had the multiple random, but expected, police stops along the way in which they look to make the roads of Mozambique “safe” for all by making sure you have a fire extinguisher, safety vest, relective triangles, and proper documentation in  your car. Never mind that no one pays attention to traffic lights or speed limits, and that stop signs are just a suggestion. We can all drive with the peace of mind that comes from knowing our fellow drivers all have proper safety equipment on board. After about 5 hours of travel, we arrived safely in the village of Nwadjahane.

The small village was teeming with excitement. Villagers were lined up along the dirt road that led to the festival area, ready to greet the incoming government leaders who would be attending. They were singing and dancing as they waited. Others were busy about the stage making final adjustments. Others were filling in around the performance area, securing a good spot to view the teams. Behind the stage stood 12 teams from all over southern Mozambique, dressed in their grass skirts and anxiously awaiting to begin. We found a shaded spot under a large tree in the back, behind the rows of plastic chairs for spectators. To our right, was another stage that was decorated in fabric of red, green, yellow, and black- the colors of the Mozambican flag. Chairs were lined up on stage for the government guests. One large, ornate chair was set front and center, reserved for the governor of the province.

Before long, a stream of trucks came rolling in carrying the special government guests. The villagers erupted into song, the trucks came to a stop, and the government people emerged and shook hands with the crowd. They were led up to the stage where they took their places. We were so proud to see our friend, Chude, sitting right next to the governor of the province with the administrator of Manajacaze on her other side. We know the administrator because of our work there. He is an eloquent man with a good heart. He spied us in the crowd and gave us a smile of recognition and a wave. A few minutes later, his assistant came to us and asked us to join the guests on stage. We were happy to stay out of the way and watch anonymously, but he would not accept our refusal. So up we went and settled ourselves on stage.

The event began with the introduction of the 12 teams who had already won their places in the competition by winning local competitions. Each team danced, sang, and whistled their way out onto the stage with shouts and applause from the audience. The air was electric with as much energy as I have ever experienced at any sporting event. Members of the teams ranged from small girls, maybe around 5 years old, to older women who were gray to moms with babies tied onto their backs. After they returned behind the stage to wait, the speeches began, starting with those is less prominent positions in the government and culminating with the governor. TV cameras and photographers were everywhere recording the event. And finally, the competition began! We were led off the stage to the area below where we sat down to view the dancers.

Xingomana is a cultural dance that goes way back. It was performed by wives for their husband. Historically, and even today, men are permitted to take more than one wife. The first wife is the head of the family. She has prominence over all the other wives. She is the head of the household and tells all the others what to do. The dance is the younger wives’ way of getting her back. Through the dance, they are able to flaunt their younger bodies and gain the attention of the husband.
The dance is done to the rapid beat of drums and the short blowing of whistles. The women are barefooted. Through their firm steps, they kick up the sand around them creating a dust that fills the air. They wear grass skirts that swish back and forth, accentuating their every move. The dance is fast and lively. All of this combines to create a beautiful experience that is thrilling. As we watched, my eyes filled with tears of joy and amazement. They were so amazing. They were so beautiful. And it then hit me…how did it happen that I had the fortune of being here to experience this?! I was a world away, not just in distance, but in culture and experience. It was a sight that few are privileged to see. I felt extremely privileged and overwhelmed by it all.

Don looked my way and saw the tears in my eyes. This brought tears to his eyes as well. He worries about me here. He worries about my happiness. He worries about how I am coping with all that happens to us. Yet through my tears, he saw my happiness. It brought happiness to him as well. Moments like this reaffirm to him that he does not need to worry so much.