My Third Mother’s Day in Africa – Chris Cheek

This past week I found myself time and time again on the playground with the kids just watching them in awe.  Two and a half years ago when I arrived at Project Canaan we had 85 children living with us.  At that time Rose and Gabriel, our oldest, had just turned 4.  On Friday we had two little ones join our family giving us 157 children and Rose and Gabriel turned 6 in late December.  Today as I reflect on the lives of the children in my daily life, the moms/Gogos I have met in the community and circumstances of how hard life is in a third world country for moms/Gogos I find myself focusing on three insights.

  1. Children are children no matter where you are.  They giggle, play, hit and two year olds say no.  They have favorite things, they want hugs and attention.  They are moody and whiny when they are tired and hungry. They love unconditionally.   

Bella giggles, Emmanuel wants to know everyone’s name, Ben dances, Ruth makes faces, Shirley loves cake, Rose is a little mom, Portia hugs and comforts everyone, Caleb is cute, and Miriam is in charge.  The personalities of 157 little ones living on a mountain side are each unique and if you sat back and watched them play, walk to school, eat their meals, explore the world you would never know the stories of how their life began. 

I have watched them grow and develop.  They speak two languages (think about 40+ two year olds say no in two languages), they know their alphabet, they count the older ones read, they know colors and the weather.  They are kids being kids.

         2.  A mother’s love and dreams for her children are for a brighter future and a good life.

On Saturday I was visiting a homestead of a couple maybe in their late 30’s.  They have 4 children.  The wife has a job as a housekeeper for a family in a local gated community.  The husband can’t find work.  If he can pick up a day labor job he takes it, but they are few and far between.  So between the two of them they live on, in a good month, equivalent to about $100.  (Keep in mind that her transport to get to work is about $20/month that comes out of the $100.) 

In addition to her family she has taken in her 17 year-old cousin that has a one month-old baby.  The 17 year-old is a double orphan, both her mom and dad have died.  They are now a family of 8 living on the one income. 

We sat on her stoop as she shared her story, cuddled her youngest child and introduced her family to us.   I watched her eyes sparkle as she introduced her children.  As I was taking this in I thought about how many times I have talked about my boys and how I feel every time I think about the or I share a story about them. 

This mom with her baby in her arms is me and I am her.  Our common bond is our love and our dreams.

          3.   Circumstance don’t define who we are, but often times circumstances overwhelm people to a point of hopelessness.

Last night I sat and watched the winter sun drop below the crest of the western mountain ridge.  The winds were blowing and I found myself deep in thought, “Why have the mothers of 157 children reached a point of hopelessness that they have thrown their children into pit latrines, tied them up in plastic bags and thrown them in the bush, abandoned them on road sides or thrown them in a river?”  “How does a mom living on $100 a month, providing for a family of 8, continue to have a twinkle in her eye as she watches her children play?”  “What has been the difference in their lives that has given hope and destroyed hope?” 

Wish that I could say that I came up with an answer, one filled with great insight and wisdom, an answer that would give humanity a way to work together so that all children live with hope, a chance to play and laugh, have the nutrition they need to grow and develop, health care and the love and twinkle of their mother’s eyes.  There was no reconciliation between my heart and mind on how circumstances impact the decisions we make.  

I begin this morning with gratitude that I will see 157 children laugh and play, I will watch with a sparkle in my eye that comes from memories of sweet cuddles and adventures with my two boys, Joey and Michael that are my heart and why it beats.  I am grateful the circumstances in my life that did not lead to hopelessness and for the opportunity to live in Africa and learn lessons as I walk this sacred path we call life.  

What a wonderful Mother’s Day, the journey continues…….


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