As we’re gearing up for our Gala for Hope(s) this September, I’ve been pulling tons of Elina photos from the CiH archives. Photos of us together over the past 7 YEARS that I’ve known her. And before we look ahead, dreaming together at our Galas, I wanted to share this story, this incredible story of one simple “yes” making ripples throughout entire communities in Zambia. Not really “my” story, but the story that I get to be part of. A gloriously messy, painfully thrilling, hope-filled, risky, adventurous, faith-filled story.
And while this story for me started in the summer of 2010 on that impactful mission trip to Lusaka, Zambia with 23 strangers, we’re going to start this story at the beginning of the launch of CiH in Zambia, July 2012, FIVE YEARS AGO almost exactly.
It’s 3:30 in the morning, which should really be called 3:30 at night since no one should ever be awake at that hour. I’m at the Raleigh/Durham airport with my parents, my brother, and my new boyfriend of 3 months (another novel for another day).
We have 4 suitcases packed to the capacity of 23 kgs which is actually 51 pounds, which takes some convincing for the check-in attendants for our airline. I’m wearing my Clothed in Hope logo shirt like a total goober, and have my shiny blue outdoors backpack filled to the brim, or as much as they’ll let me fill it to still be called a carry-on.
The day is here. The day that started as an idea in the fall of 2010, a dream in early 2011, and the next-step over the next couple years as I fundraised and started Clothed in Hope stateside. Logo, website, some funds to get me going, and a few Skype calls with people way more experienced than me who have gone before me on this whole nonprofit/move across the world by yourself thing.
I’m 22 years old, two months graduated from the University of South Carolina, and ready to take on the world. Perhaps the very fact that I’m 22-years-old is a gift in itself, the naivety and boldness that the age brings.
It’s time. Time to jump into what I’ve set out to do, to empower women in Zambia through fashion and business. But first I’ve gotta get myself on the plane. And thankfully I’m not alone.
My big brother, Mark, three years older than me and always way smarter than me, is coming with me to get started for the first two weeks. I definitely don’t realize how much of a gift this is, and instead throw him a few eye rolls when he gets bossy or I get tired/hungry/overwhelmed.
We hug our parents goodbye. I don’t have a return ticket booked yet and even though I consider myself an emotional person, I think I have to make them believe I am strong enough to follow through with what I convinced them I’d be doing. Mom and Dad are brave and even stronger than I pretend to be, hugging their baby girl goodbye and putting her on a plane and life-path to Zambia. Though they expressed their concern in the early days, they kept their reservations to themselves (assuming they’re human and had many) for my protection and out of the largest amounts of love that would take me years to realize.
And then I hug my new boyfriend goodbye. Bless him. He just turned 21 a few weeks before, and we just started dating after I swore off dating for this whole “Africa thing.” Life is funny like that. He’s tired, I’m tired (because it’s 3:30 in the morning), and we have absolutely no idea what we’re doing committing to a new long-distance relationship that stretches past oceans, on different continents and different time zones. We hug, but not for too long as to not freak out my parents and big brother. “See you later.”
This all seems normal, like the rational next step in the process of pursuing this dream. But I fail to recognize the number of people that I’ve taken along with me who aren’t able to jump on this plane with me. Little do I know, every friendship and relationship will change the second I walk through those metal detectors in the airport security line.
And as matter-of-factly as it feels to fly to NYC, we’re off to travel across the globe. To NYC, to London, to Nairobi, to Zimbabwe, and finally to Zambia. Within the span of 30 hours.
Crusty-eyed, greasy-haired, lookin’ a hot mess, we’ve arrived. It’s cold season, but it still feels quite warm in this tiny terminal without any ventilation, nerves through the roof. After being cleared for customs and immigration, we step into the “arrivals” area, merely a room the size of a doctor’s office waiting room.
Our eyes scan for the sign. They’re supposed to be here with a sign, this family who we’ve never met but briefly emailed with who offered their guest room to us strangers. What if this is a scam? What if they’re going to rob us? No time for questions or concerns, we’re here and we need the room they’ve offered. And we find their smiling faces. The mom with four of the cutest little kiddos smiling up at us and holding up our welcome sign. We’re good.
*Part 2 will be released next Wednesday 6/21. Stay tuned! In the meantime, head over HERE and get yourself a ticket for our Gala for Hope!