Rose is 45 years old, a mother of two children, and part of the newest graduating class from our Chikondi Community Center training program in Zambia. On Saturday, September 12, our entire CiH family gathered together at our center for a most joyful graduation day as we celebrated our largest graduating classes yet, a total of 8 women! Rather than recap all of the details that just don’t do the day justice in how incredible it was, I wanted to share the day through one story- Rose’s story.
Rose has lived in a house just a stone’s throw from our center. She woke up each day seeing the walls of our center painted with our logo and describing our program for women, hearing the clickety-clacks of sewing machines and cheers of women. But Rose just sat idle at her house, defeated from over 40 years of struggle. She had no business to run, no skills to utilize, seemingly no purpose to fulfill.
In what was surely a gradual decision and after much convincing, on one ordinary day, Rose stepped through our gate door thanks to the persistence of another student, Justina, and our local directors. Here at CiH, we don’t let each other suffer alone. That’s just not how life is meant to be lived. So on that day 12 months ago, Rose became part of a beautiful family, our CiH community of over 60 women who learn together, grieve together, celebrate together, and overcome together.
Rose, still skeptical and burdened, started her learning slowly, but when the switch flipped in her mind that she was capable of learning big things, and able to achieve great things, she quickly excelled. Rose, like the plant we all know, was only noticing the thorns until we began to see her bloom into the most beautiful creation. She hasn’t stopped blooming since.
On Saturday, we celebrated her and 7 of her closest friends and classmates, who ranged in ages from 29 to 46, all mamas to precious little ones. The day was special for all, but the second Rose walked through that gate door as she did for the first time 12 months ago, we knew it was especially special for her.
Rose strolled in with a bold confidence, a loud joy, and a powerful beauty, with her hair in curls, and the most stylish chitenge outfit that she designed herself. Adorned with a bright patterned fabric, Rose was rocking a peplum top and pencil skirt with unique detailing throughout the outfit. I can’t come up with any word to describe her that day other than “EMPOWERED.”
As songs played and the ceremony progressed, Rose kept her huge smile, the type that makes your eyes squint at the corners because it occupies your entire face. That type of real joy, of real victory, of real accomplishment. On Saturday, Rose danced to celebrate not only that she passed our program, but that she now carries a newfound respect, purpose, and dignity for herself, qualities that reach far beyond sewing machines and business. Qualities that have truly changed her life and her family.
The time came (after delicious snacks, of course) for the graduates to receive their diplomas. Rose sat nervously in her seat, in great anticipation of this moment that she never imagined possible for her life. She was to be recognized by many. She was to be celebrated for completing a difficult course that would equip her with a valuable skill.
Then Rose’s name was called. The eye-squinting smile was replaced with tears. Overflowing tears. Raw emotion like we have never witnessed in the 3+ years of our program. All of us held our breath as we witnessed this brilliant moment together. Rose ran up to the front, dancing her way there, proclaiming, “Tears of JOY!”
I could tell that these were tears of joy. But also tears of overcoming immense struggle. Of victory over the darkest places that have held her back for so many years. Of being known and seen and accepted. Of belonging. Tears of the greatest worth, coming from the deepest place inside her soul.
We all cheered her on, celebrated her vulnerability, her joy, her victory, her story. We screamed, we danced, we hugged, and we, too, shed a few of our own joyful tears. Because what one of us feels, we all feel, and we weren’t going to let that moment slip through our fingers. We savored her celebration together.
Rose was met by her daughter, one of the few family members to attend our graduation ceremony, and their embrace was witnessed by us all in what seemed to be suspended time. Nothing else mattered in that moment except for the HOPE, the joy, the victory that Rose got to express and share with all of us there. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my entire life.
As I sat there, watching it all happen in slow motion and savoring every single bit of the emotion, the celebration, I just couldn’t get over the thought that “I feel so lucky.” To be sitting in the middle of the dusty Ng’ombe compound with noises blaring, babies screaming, despair easily noticed all around, yet surrounded in that moment by the most glorious hope and victory, I felt so lucky.
Life is hard and is especially hard for the women in our program and our community. Many bury their children, many suffer disease, many are abused daily, many face hunger and oppression. Yet in the thick of the hard and seemingly insurmountable pain exists this little thing called HOPE. Hope that changes lives, hope that empowers, hope that lifts up, hope that believes in one another, hope that introduces us to true, powerful, real love. And to inhale that hope in the midst of the hard is one glorious gift.
I am so lucky to get to be a part of Rose’s story of overcoming, of redemption, of new life. And you, HOPE Club Members, donors, customers, are also so lucky. Your contribution has made this possible. Not in some far-fetched way, but in a tangible way. Evidenced by the tears, by the cheers, by the dancing, by the life-change in 8 amazing women on Saturday. You made this possible. You gave opportunity where many women could only see defeat. You believe in these women by supporting them monthly through our program, and they know who you are and are encouraged by that generous gesture.
Maybe it feels like you’re thousands of miles away and thus distanced from the change, but let me just tell you today that your involvement with CiH matters. It has changed Rose’s life, and is changing dozens of others today and next month and next year. You are also the lucky ones to get to be a part of something so huge, so empowering, so far-reaching in its impact. Thank you for making this possible. We couldn’t do it without you. And if you’re on the fence about joining our HOPE Club family to provide this opportunity for others who are waiting, join us today. I promise you won’t regret getting to invest in the life-change of others. It’s so worth it.
With Chikondi (Love) and HOPE,
To join the HOPE Club, providing monthly support for our current and future students, click here: