Monday, September 30, 2013

Meet Mariam

Never before have I met a shorter, stouter 6 year old. I keep thinking
about my sweet Sofia back home in Colorado. She’s 6, and pretty petite
for her age, but she would tower right over Mariam. At about the
height of a 4 year old, I remember the first time Mariam greeted me
with her big, tooth-less grin. It struck me as odd that such a little
girl would be losing her teeth already, but I quickly learned that
Mariam was well into her 6th year. As with all of the kids at the

orphanage, Mariam would rush over upon my arrival to their play area,
but I was drawn to her from the beginning. Unlike some of the younger
kids, Mariam was helpful to the aunties – fetching the clean clothes,
retrieving run-away babies, assisting with meal prep and clean up. She
was gentle with the babies, and very playful with me. Initially the
language barrier was frustrating on both ends, but we quickly
developed a number of games that we play. My personal favorite is when
she pretends to sleep and I tickle her awake, but promptly blame it on
a nearby baby. She continues to insist that it was me, I deny it, she
goes back to “sleep” and the game continues. It amazes me that,
although we hardly speak enough of the same language to hold a
conversation, we are able to play and laugh for hours together.
Eventually, tired for all of the play, she will plop herself in my
lap, wrap my arms around her, and begin rocking back and forth. I have
to hold back tears when she does this because I think of all the
nights she wasn’t rocked to sleep and the times when she was scared or
hurt or sick and didn’t have arms to hold her tight and promise her it
would all be okay. She is loved by the aunties here, there is no
doubt. And she is DEEPLY loved by God, I know that for sure. But I
have to fight the pain that comes with the reality of her situation.
For six years, she hasn’t had a mom or dad to care for and comfort
her. Her mother isn’t mentally well and her father is not in the
picture at all. But what I love about our God is that he’s a God of
redemption and restoration. I found out just today that Mariam and her
sweet sister Madina have adoptive parents waiting for them in the
United States.  Parents who will be able to provide and comfort these
two precious girls. Parents who will undoubtedly fall as deeply in
love with Mariam as I have. I am so grateful for the ending that these
two will have. I find myself now dreaming and praying for her adoptive
parents. That they might be able to experience the same joy and love
in Mariam that I have witnessed on a daily basis. I pray they speak
French (she’s been teaching me little bits here and there), I pray
they understand how incredibly lucky they are to be adding this
precious girl to their family. I know I’m probably not supposed to
have favorites, but I can’t help it. Mariam is my favorite.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Along for the ride

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring
Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will
be released, that blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

Day after day this is the verse that God speaks to me. Sometimes in a
whisper – as I’m holding a baby who can neither hear nor see.
Sometimes in a shout – as I place shoes on the feet of a 10 year old
child for the first time ever.

Some days I find myself SO frustrated because I want to be helping
more. I want to give the children here ANYTHING and EVERYTHING that I
can. On those days, God reminds me that I’m not here to change
everything, but I’m here to proclaim that the captives are free. I am
here to declare that the time of the Lord’s favor has come to Yako.
That the blind WILL see, that the hurting WILL be comforted. Maybe I
won’t see it all happen, but I am here to proclaim it. One shoe at a
time. One baby at a time. And I am reminded that it’s not about MY
plan. It’s not about what I think should happen while I am here, but
it’s about God’s plan for Burkina. And I am so incredibly grateful to
be part of that plan. I am humbled everyday that God chose me to come
here, to be part of his plan for this beautiful place and these
beautiful people. I now realize it’s no use getting frustrated because
I’m just along for the ride.  And while I’m on this awe-inspiring
ride, I will keep on changing diapers, playing patty-cake, smiling,
getting lost, making bracelets, rocking babies to sleep, loving deeply
and learning every second of the way.

Monday, September 16, 2013

More Adventures in Yako

August 16th.
Today marks almost one week in Yako and over a week in Burkina. I must
say, I’m adjusting well! On a daily basis I discover a new (HUGE) bug
beneath my bed (yesterday it was a scorpion! Yep…), but it hardly
phases me now! I also don’t notice the thick layer of dirt and mud
covering my feet, legs and arms anymore. Since it is rain season here,
the red dirt covering the majority of Yako quickly turns to mud. I’ve
quickly made friends with the young boys at the orphanage and they
come to my door daily around 3 yelling “Em-ill-lee, come and play!” in
their thick accents. They could play soccer for hours and are
impressed by my ability to shoot and play goalie. Only about 3 of them
speak any English, but we are able to communicate pretty well! It can
be frustrating for all of us when they try to explain something to me,
but we’re figuring it out. I don’t typically last too long out in the
scorching African sun. I can play for about 2 hours, and then I’m
sweating to death, burnt to a crisp and covered completely in red
African mud. I love it.
The rest of my day is spent helping Amy and Mike with different
projects (either for the orphanage, school or the TOMS shoes
distributions) and playing with the babies. The babies (ranging from
infant – 5 years old) spend their days outside in a shaded, covered,
cement-floored play pin of sorts. They have a schedule that I'm
quickly learning, and I help as much as I can. The nannies (tonties)
don’t speak English, and only very little French so it can be a
challenge to communicate anything to them, but I’m picking up quickly
on the do’s and do-not’s. Starting this week, I will be pulling
children out to have one-on-one time with them. I have a schedule with
all of children on it and different age-appropriate activities that we
will be doing! Things like beading, puzzles, dress-up, bubbles,
side-walk chalk and more! I am SO excited to start this. I love the
idea of giving these sweet babies individual attention.

Last Saturday I got to participate in my first TOMS shoes
distribution. It was pretty amazing. We passed out close to 500 shoes
to children ages 4-15 (which really ended up being ages 2-18, but that
was the goal!) who can’t afford shoes of their own. This was only ONE
village out in the Bush. Kids just kept showing up out of nowhere! I
was in awe. At around 9:00, Avance (an older boy who was one of the
first orphans at the orphanage) gives a small talk about hygiene to
all of the children. He talks about the importance of wearing shoes to
prevent disease and sickness, and about the importance of washing your
hands and feet (something a LOT of these children don't know!).  Mike
and Amy are trying to center each distribution around the local
village church, so that the children don’t think it’s just the
Americans giving shoes, and so that they will reach out to the church
if they have a need in the future. Once Avance finished his lesson,
the children are individually sized and fit for shoes. I was one of
the shoe fitters. Children come in one at a time with their size
written on a piece of paper and once I have the appropriate size, I
would try it on their feet. It was remarkable how many children had no
idea how to put on a close-toed shoe. Many of them have NO shoes at
all, but the ones who DO have shoes usually wear very poorly made
plastic sandals. I remember putting the shoes on one little girl in
particular. She sat down and stared at me (many of these children have
never seen a white person before! We were deep in the African Bush).
Her feet were scarred from years of harsh exposure to the rocky
ground. When I got the shoes on her feet she smiled the widest smile
I’ve seen and grasped my hands, repeating “Merci, Merci, Merci!!!” And
although I had NO idea how to tell her “you’re welcome” or “you are SO
LOVED” I hugged her and I knew  she understood. In that moment I was
so grateful to be part of such a wonderful cause! We were able to
distribute close to 500 shoes. We were able to improve the quality of
life for close to 500 children. Now that’s pretty incredible! It’s
pretty neat to be on THIS side of the TOMS company. To see first hand
how they give the shoes back. Next Saturday we go back out to do the
same thing all over again. My hands will again be COVERED in dirt and
SO sore from stretching shoes onto feet, but it will be SO worth it.
And, just a little information I learned about the TOMS distributions:
They provide shoes for the SAME villages every 6 months- so that these
children always have shoes that fit their growing feet! Also, the
shoes we passed out are a bit different than the ones we buy in the
states- they have rubber soles on them, as to withstand the African
terrain. And these shoes are only given to children who cannot
purchase them for themselves, as to not take business away from local
I’m sure I missed about a million details, but there’s just no way to
accurately capture it in words. I will have pictures soon, so maybe
that will help.
I’m looking forward to my two “roommates” showing up tomorrow! I’m
ready to not be alone in this big house! I’m sure I will have more
stories about our wild African adventures soon.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Welcome to Yako

I am well into day 2 of my stay at Yako, and I'm really finding my
place here!! Amy (the woman running the orphanage) asked me to begin
pulling one baby at a time out of their play area and having
one-on-one time with them, to help with developmental stuff... fine
and gross motor skills, shape and color recognition... things like
that! I'm looking forward to getting things started with that. Here's
a post I wrote my first night here. The internet has been a challenge,
so it's taken me a few days to post, but better late than never!! I
went with Amy and her husband Mike to a few villages today to
distribute grain to a few widows. They are really trying to do
EVERYTHING through the church, so that the people in the villages look
to the church for support instead of to Americans. Brilliant! We
scouted out a few well-drilling projects while we were there. I'm not
sure if I will be around for that or not, but I sure hope so! Tomorrow
is our TOMS shoe distribution! I'm so excited. I can't wait to write
about it!

I’m sitting in my African house where I will be living for the next
two months, in the middle of a rain storm, crying because there’s no
toaster… Let me rewind and explain how I got here.
At around 11:00 am, Amy and Mike Riddering loaded me and my belongings
into their car and we took off for Yako. What should have been a mere
2 hour journey turned into an 8 hour adventure. After FOUR flat tires,
two motor-bike (called motos) trips to the nearest village and one
HUGE rain storm (which turned the streets of Yako into a raging river.
Seriously.) we arrived at the orphanage guest house. By now I’m tired,
I’m soaking wet and I’m seriously sunburnt. The sun here is SO MUCH
hotter on my poor white skin. We unloaded all of my stuff (and it was
a lot of stuff… grocery shopping for two months worth of food is no
joke people) and Amy gave me the tour. I fought back tears as I peered
around my future home. There is electricity and running water so it is
seriously luxurious for Yako but it was a bit of a shock to my
comfortable American self. There were bugs. Lots of bugs. And the
shower is just a shower head over the toilet. There’s red African dirt
kind of everywhere. It felt foreign and scary and isolated. After they
made sure I had everything I needed, Mike and Amy headed back to their
home (a mere block away) and I locked up for the night. I decided I
would make myself some peanut butter toast. Something that felt
familiar and comforting.  As I looked around the kitchen area, I
quickly realized that there’s no toaster. There’s no toaster for my
peanut butter toast. Cue tears. Lots of tears. Lots of pent up tears.
I sat at the kitchen table and cried. Not so much about the toaster,
but more about being so far from home, and being all by myself. The
tears are a weeks-worth of tears that I’ve been fighting back. So I
let them out, but as I did, I heard God’s gentle voice saying “Emily!
This is AFRICA! This is what you worked so hard for. This is what
we’ve been dreaming about. Africa isn’t about toasters and comfort.
It’s about healing the sick; it’s about bringing my Kingdom. It’s
about showing love to the least! It’s about comforting the fatherless
and bringing joy to the widows. Emily, this is Africa.”
So quickly I had forgotten what I worked and struggled and journeyed
so hard for. Not for comfort but for the beautiful people of Yako. For
the 20 babies sleeping next door who were without homes and moms and
dads. For the hundreds of children in the neighboring villages with
malaria and without shoes. This trip is so not about me. And it took
me getting REALLY uncomfortable to remember that.
SO, now I am sitting in the middle of a rain storm (under the cover of
my lovely little home) eating untoasted bread with peanut butter. And
loving it!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My african adventure: Onward to Yako!

I've been in Ouaga for 5 days now, and tomorrow I will bid farewell to this busy and beautiful town and head onward to Yako where I will be living and working at an orphanage for two months. I couldn't be more excited! Every time I hear more about Yako and the orphanage and my role there I seem to come more and more alive. On Saturday we will be doing a TOMS shoes distribution to the village children. How awesome is that?! I personally own two pairs of TOMS and have always wondered exactly HOW they distribute their shoes to the children. If you aren't familiar with TOMS, the whole idea behind it is one-for-one: for every pair of shoes you purchase, the company purchases a pair of shoes for a child in need. I am SO pumped to be part of this, and to report back on exactly how it's done! The couple who runs the orphanage told me that the shoes given to the children are, in fact, TOMS shoes and are BETTER quality than the ones we purchase for ourselves! I know there are a lot of naysayers out there who think it's all a scam... just you wait. I'll give you the WHOLE rundown.
Other things I'm looking forward to out at the orphanage are the medical clinics, food distribution, malnutrition clinics and, mainly just loving some babies! At any time, they have up to 20 babies who need to be held, fed, changed, played with and nurtured! I will get to do some one-on-one activities to help with large and small motor development, I will get to lead some crafts.... I couldn't be more excited!
Here are a few pictures I've snapped while I've been here. I haven't been able to take a ton of pictures because it's both unsafe and considered rude to do so in Ouaga. Once I'm out in Yako I will have the opportunity to take LOADS more photos, not to fret.

This is a shot of the sun coming up as I was heading into Brussels. The Brussels airport was a very, very low point. I'll tell that story once I've fully healed from the experience. Let's just say there was no English spoken and LOTS of tears shed. 

This is a shot from the porch of the guest house I am staying at it Ouaga. In the dirt lot you see, I have been enjoying watching a group of neighborhood kids play something that looks like dodgeball. I'm tempted to join them, but afraid they might totally school me :) 

This is a view of Ouaga from the home we went to for church on Sunday. Did I mention church was in ALL French? Lovely language, but not one I understand in the slightest.

This is my little monkey friend. He's cute now, but apparently they get REAL mean when they get older. The woman I'm staying with said she gave her last three to her guard and he ATE them! Crazy! Truth be told, he kind of freaked me out... made me a little nervous! I thought he might steal my camera! Ha!

I'm headed off tomorrow at 9:00 my time (it's a 6 hour difference from CO, a 7 hour difference from CA) to Yako! I can't wait to see what's next on this wild adventure!! 

with love,

Monday, September 9, 2013

Observations from Burkina

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa about the size of Colorado. Currently, I am staying in the capital city, Ouagadougou (said Wog-uh-doo-goo) which is the largest city in all of Burkina with a population of 1,475,223. I've been here 4 days now and sure am learning a lot about the culture! Here are a few of my top observations: 
- There are no rules of the road. Actually, there are no rules which motor-bikes observe. In a word, they're crazy. They pass on both the left AND the right, even if you're turning! They run red lights. They have a designated part of the main road (much like a bike lane except it has a small curb separating it from the rest of the road) however, they ride both IN and OUT of their bike lane. Today, I saw a woman with two toddlers AND an infant on a motor-bike! 
- The equivalent to a garbage truck here is a cart being towed by a (get this) donkey.  
- At the street market, if you take anything from a vendor (even if just to look at it) they refuse to take it back, and expect you to pay for it. 
- Monkeys are VERY mean. 
- People use any land near a water source to grow their crops even if that water source is right next to the main road. 
- Don't use your left hand. This is the hand that is used to "wipe" if there isn't any toilet paper available, so it's considered "unclean" (and rightly so!). 
- At any red light, you will be offered to buy various fruits (mostly limes), phone cards, tissues and gum. 
-At the driving school/DMV/police department there is a board where they post pictures of all the fatal motor-bike accidents. I'm talking gory, bloody, dead people pictures. 
- The material here is BEAUTIFUL. Never before have I seen more vibrant, colorful clothes! 
- Tailors, jewelry makers and the like will make "home visits" to sell their goods. 

Well, that's all for now. I'm sure I will have MUCH more to tell y'all very soon! OH, and I'm SLOWLY learning a bit of French! 

Au revoir!!!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Is this real life...?

What a whirlwind the last month has been. I packed up my entire house, loaded it into a Uhaul (towing my car), drove 18 hours east to Colorado, unpacked my Uhaul, and boarded one of three planes to Africa. Crazy. I don't advise it for anyone! The good news is I have survived it all and I now sit in a guest room in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso as I type this blog! Hooray! I've been here for 3 days now and I keep wondering to myself "Is this real life? Am I ACTUALLY here?" I mean, I've been preparing for this trip for the last 3 months. Working HARD to raise support, getting visas, medicine, supplies... There's been a ton of prep that has taken place and now I'm here! For the next two months I will be living on an orphanage compound in Yako, a small village in Burkina Faso. I will be holding, feeding, changing and loving sweet babies. I will be helping with medical and malnutrition clinics. I will be helping distribute TOMS shoes to the village children. I will be meeting and building relationships with the orphanage workers and children. I am full of excitement, nerves and joy.
Since I've been here, I have had the pleasure of meeting the entire Envision team that is in Burkina. What wonderful people!! They took me to a Burkina soccer game which qualified Burkina for the 2014 World Cup. Let's just say the people were overjoyed. I've never quite seen a celebration like it before in my life. Hundreds of African people flooding the streets, full of pride in their home soccer team. It was incredible. I've been out to eat at a lovely little cafe, I've been to the market, and I've been to church. I'm still getting over a bit of jet lag and recovering from the brutal flights. One day they will invent some sort of teleportation that will completely eliminate the need for planes. On that day I will celebrate!
I leave for Yako on Wednesday. I have no idea what to expect but I'm ready for just about anything. I hope to post often on this blog to keep people updated!
I find myself SO grateful for all of the people who supported this trip. Thank you for your ongoing support and prayer. Thank you for your generosity!

With love,
Images by Freepik