06 Jul Path Of Hope: Homestay with Esther
written by Mandee Campos
After the close of the 2016 Lahash East Africa Conference, our team left Mwanza and traveled to Shinyanga to visit Path of Hope (POH). Path of Hope is one of Lahash’s outreach-based partnerships. The children live with their families or caregivers, and are visited regularly by program staff. This is an essential way for the staff to follow up with each child, as their progress is heavily determined by their home life. The children also attend local schools and participate in the Lahash Sponsorship Program activities facilitated weekly by POH. Each child from POH is more than a number or a name – they are loved and known.
In the short time we had with POH, we distributed uniforms, shoes, and mosquito nets to the children in the Sponsorship Program. We also got to have an overnight homestay with a child in the program, and this experience really stood out to all of us. The homestay incorporated sharing a meal, hearing the family’s story, and staying overnight as their guests. It was an intimate and practical way to see firsthand the conditions of a child’s day-to-day life.
My homestay group included Leisha (Lahash staff member who lives in Tanzania), Emmy (fellow first-time traveler), and Flora (POH staff). We visited a 15-year-old girl named Esther, who has been accepted into the Sponsorship Program but has not yet been matched with a sponsor. She lives with her Aunt Sofia, and their home was surrounded by several bars and clubs. There were many men drinking and crowding the streets during the late hours. Had I not been with a group that included two women familiar with the area, I would not have felt safe. Esther’s house was right behind one of the bars.
When we got to the house, neither Esther or her aunt were home from work yet. We waited as it got darker and darker. There were no street lamps; the only light came from the bars. The aunt arrived first, looking surprised that Esther was not back from work. She welcomed us into their home – a small room that contained a bed, a pile of clothes, a bowl filled with some dishes, a teapot, a cooking pot, some small wooden stools, and Esther’s schoolwork. It was a very sobering moment for our team. The small room would have been completely dark had not one of us brought a small battery-powered lamp. It would be nearly impossible to study once the sun went down after a long day of working. Time to study is important for Esther, who wants to pursue a career in nursing.
After a few minutes of sitting with Sofia, we heard the sound of flip-flops smacking the ground rapidly. In the doorway I saw the silhouette of a young woman. With a loud giggle, she stepped in to greet us. I knew immediately that I liked this beautiful and spirited young lady. We were told she had a courageous nature about her – very fitting to her name. When I asked Esther what her favorite Bible story was, she grabbed her Bible without hesitation and started reading to us from the book of Esther. In the dim light, she leaned into her Bible and carefully traced each line with her finger. Her eyes were beaming with pride.
As we ate a small dinner of bread with margarine and tea, we learned a little more about the two of them, and how they found hope in Jesus Christ despite being the only believers in their family. Esther’s mother died a year after Esther was born, and her father is an alcoholic who refuses to accept any responsibility for her. This is why Esther stays with her Aunt Sofia. With both of them working, they should have a decent income, however, their bosses do not consistently pay them. It is very difficult to find affordable housing in safer areas, so for now they must remain in their current unsafe location.
The biggest hurdle they face is also the biggest hope for Esther’s future: education.
Esther is in secondary school and the expenses are very high. Leisha explained, “A lot of vulnerable families can’t see their way to supporting their kids’ secondary education. Oftentimes, the child is pulled out of school because it is a time where the child is old enough to work and contribute to the household income. Education is a long-term investment that a lot of families can’t afford. However, Esther’s aunt is not that way. She wants Esther to be in school. She is working very hard and is making the sacrifices necessary to support the two of them. But without help, maintaining Esther’s education will be extremely difficult for them. I really think it’s great that POH has identified this family and is working with them. I hope that through our advocacy from this visit, Esther can get a sponsor that will help see her education through to completion.”
As the conversation continued, we realized that the sacrifice and support Sofia gives to Esther comes from the deep bond shared between the two of them. Sofia sees Esther as her own daughter and is strongly committed to developing and disciplining Esther to be a healthy and wholehearted woman who follows Jesus. Just in our brief time with them, Emmy observed, “You can tell, just based off the looks and the words the two of them exchange, that they care deeply about each other.”
There were some moments of silence and sadness in the testimony we heard, but there was also laughter and a sense of hope for the continuing story of these two remarkable women. “Going into the home stay, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Emmy reflected. “My impression of Esther was that she is a very smart and strong girl who is very bold and willing. The visit wasn’t about feeling sorry or sad for them, but being hopeful. The whole experience was hopeful. It was really touching.”
The night we stayed there, three of us shared a mattress brought by our group as a gift for the family, and the other three shared the bed that was already there. The two mattresses took up the majority of the room. We were restless and smothered by each other, and loud music from the bars boomed late into the night. I stared into the darkness and prayed that Esther would continue to grow in courage. I prayed that she would be blessed with a sponsor that would support her with as much heart and dedication as her aunt has been doing all this time. Finally, I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving, as I was touched by the hospitality and kindness shown to us by our two sisters in Christ.