Operation HOPE Goes on Ubuntu Journey
From Powerlessness to Prosperity
It was a bright and sunny day as members of Operation HOPE and I made our way along the suburbs of Kayole, located near Nairobi, Kenya. The women were very excited. They were wearing their royal blue T-shirts. I was wearing a dress that was also blue to give them moral support. Even the air seemed full of excitement as we proceeded on our Ubuntu journey. Yes, members of Operation HOPE were on an Ubuntu journey!
It would have been unheard of some eight years ago for members of Operation HOPE to be going on an Ubuntu journey. That was a time when these HIV-positive women were struggling to survive. They were discriminated against and oppressed because of their status. According to statistics provided by Avert.org, the HIV and AIDS epidemics are prevalent in Kenya. An estimated 1.6 million people out of a population of about 41 million are HIV positive. Like this group of women, most who are positive have faced discrimination. The majority has been relegated to the background because of the stigma associated with the disease.
The women shared stories about the discrimination they have experienced. Some told of how they were accused of bringing the disease into their homes and then chased out. Some were accused of being witches. Some were told not to sit at the table with the rest of the family because they would infect the food with HIV. Some were not allowed to prepare food for the household. One told a story about trying to buy some tomatoes; she touched one that was in a basket and was asked to pay for all of them because it was believed that she had infected the whole lot!
Such was the plight of the HIV-positive women in Kayole. They were sad. They were miserable. They were dejected and rejected. It was then that I intervened and, with Flory Emma Atieno, formed Operation HOPE. The word “HOPE” in the group’s name is an acronym:
H: Hope not Holocaust
O: Opportunities not oppression
P: Prosperity not powerlessness
E: Enthusiasm not evil
United Methodist Women’s funding
United Methodist Women funded several workshops to empower the women. Trainings were held to enable them to live better lives. They learned about nutrition and what they could do to avoid opportunistic diseases. United Methodist Women provided money for them to buy food, clothing, blankets, mosquito nets, towels and other necessities. The women have also become engaged in income-generating activities to help them become self-sufficient. Today most of them buy and resell goods. One rears and sells turkeys; one buys, paints and resells school trunks; one works in the fish trade. They are all involved in one venture or another. They are also engaged in the making and selling of detergent, which is the group’s primary trade. They want to survive by “catching their own fish.”
Thanks to United Methodist Women for supporting this undertaking and supporting the women through those dark days. “I was hungry and you gave me food … I was sick and you took care of me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)
Members of Operation HOPE have overcome their struggle for survival. Women who were on the verge of hopelessness are now giving hope to others.
The Ubuntu Trip
First, we first went to the Africa Children’s Home. We were welcomed with dancing, singing and drama. This home was started as a result of the HIV and AIDS pandemic, which left many children orphaned. Initially they received support in their own homes, but as the number of children increased, members of the Christian Missionary Fellowship opened the home for them. We donated bundles of maize flour, which is the staple food of the area. We also donated cooking oil, bags of sugar, bags of rice, bathing towels, soap, toys, crayons and snacks. We were told that we had given them a two-month supply of these items!
Joy filled the hearts of the members of Operation HOPE as they sang “We have an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll.” Indeed, Jesus is their anchor, as he has seen them through trying times, and now they are making a difference in the lives of others!
The same gifts were given to those at the Tumaini Children’s Drop-In Center. This center was started as a result of the acute poverty in the Matopeni slums, in Nairobi. Parents could not afford a day’s meals for their children. Children would rummage through the garbage cans on the streets. Seeing this plight, community leaders opened the center for the children. The staff could not believe the amount of goods we had brought. According to them, well-wishers had given them gifts before, but the magnitude of ours, as well as the love we showed, was beyond their expectations. One child, who was given a toy car, held it as if his whole life depended on it. He had never before received a gift. His mother had abandoned him in a gutter when he was born. That day, people who were abandoned by society gave hope to him.
The hope that the members of Operation HOPE give is built on nothing less than the love of Jesus Christ and his righteousness. “On Christ, the solid rock, [they] stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
Thank you to United Methodist Women who made this possible. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40
Our final stop was at the Joy Valley Children’s Home. This home was started to help children who were used and abused by metal scrap dealers. The children were asked to collect metal scraps and in return were given a pittance. They had run away from home and had dropped out of school. At the center, a school was opened so they could continue their education, and they were fed and housed in dormitories. A child who was given a ruler on the day we visited was so happy that he immediately went to do his homework.
Members of Operation HOPE were as thrilled as the children with whom they were ministering. They felt useful. They felt needed. They felt good. They felt that they were making a difference to society. They felt that they were giving love; the love that at one time was denied them. This was the love that United Methodist Women had given them, and they in turn were sharing it with others.
For the love it extends to the world, for the hope it shares, we can’t stop giving thanks to God for United Methodist Women.