By Kim Merrefield, Extreme Women’s Communications Writer
Extreme Women volunteer Kim Merrefield recently returned from a visit with ER partners in South Africa. Here she describes her experiences meeting women of uncommon inner beauty.
“The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.” –Audrey Hepburn
At the beginning of 2015, my husband and I decided to join a short-term trip to Cape Town, South Africa with Extreme Response. Specifically, we were going with the Women’s Advocacy team – Extreme Women – to love on the women and children we advocate for.
In the months leading up to the trip, our fearless leader, Kelly McClelland, told me many times that when I actually met the ladies we advocate for, I would be forever changed. I was excited, yet had no clue what to expect, having never gone on a short-term trip before.
After months of prepping and planning, the day finally came to board the plane and see the ladies. Over the course of the 10-day trip in August, we got to sit with several different partners to hear their stories, ask them questions, and most of all, just love on them. Each day I was filled with emotion, from heartbreak to gratitude, as I listened to their stories, hugged their children and tried to comprehend their circumstances.
I heard stories from women that made me laugh. I heard stories of rape and poverty that made me want to cry and hold them tight. But most of all I heard stories of hope and strength. In the midst of uncontrollable and desolate surroundings, the beauty that flowed from these women – many who have few material possessions – left me in awe. Their smiles had not been withered by the storm, their hearts had not been hardened, and their eyes still had that flicker of light beaming from them. Their beauty was as radiant as ever.
Kelly was right: I am forever changed. I cannot un-hear their stories. I cannot un-see the look in their eyes. I cannot go back to where I was before going on the trip.
Extreme Response exists to “change the lives of those living in extreme, often life-threatening, situations,” but I think the ones most changed are the individuals who volunteer to work alongside them.
Somehow the love in their hearts and the beauty in their eyes manage to leave a lasting impression – one you cannot help but be forever changed by.
For additional information on Extreme Women, contact Kelly McClelland at email@example.com or visit http://www.extremeresponse.org/our-programs/womens-advocacy.
Every day, Miguel and Jane, their daughter Patricia, their sons Luis, Edison, Miguel and Jefferson,plus two more extend family members, squeezed into their tiny home that featured green paneling near the entrance. Built with scavenged boards, the dilapidated house was all they had.
In some countries, the little structure would have been condemned and the family would be out on the street – homeless. But for these nine family members, the home meant survival. They were living like canned sardines, but at least they had a home. Unfortunately, what the home couldn’t provide was hope for the future. They were stuck in a perpetual cycle of poverty.
You see the Guachi family are “miners”, a term used to describe people who scratch out a living by wading into mounds of steaming garbage at the Zambiza Dump to remove recyclables like metal, glass, cardboard and plastics. The work is dirty and dangerous. It pays pennies per pound of recyclables – barely enough for the family to eat.
The outlook for the Guachi family was grim. But they had one chance to change everything. They knew ER volunteers had built homes for 12 other dump families. They asked to be considered for the program. After years of hoping, praying and waiting, they received the news that would change their lives. They would receive the next house, to be built in July 2015.
As part of the program, the Guachi family would work alongside Extreme Response volunteers and contribute their sweat equity. By helping build the home, the family’s confidence and sense of personal investment would grow.
Team Omaha Comes To Serve
Building homes for dump families would not be possible without ER volunteers and donors. They come from around the world for a week or two to help people they have never met. We call these volunteers Extreme Teams.
One Extreme Team in particular has been a huge blessing to the dump families. “Team Omaha” is compromised of volunteers from multiple churches in Omaha. The team steadfastly journeys to Quito year after year to change the lives of people living in desperate conditions. In addition to constructing homes, the team provides appliances, furniture, bedding and more.
The Guachi family home project began by tearing down the little green house. The family had to sleep in an old tent and makeshift hut during the new home construction. Seeing their home destroyed must have been both exciting and scary.
Not including the preliminary prep (foundation, utilities), the home was built in about one week. The 22 members of Team Omaha worked alongside family members, building both a home and relationships.
As far as construction projects go, this project was ER’s largest build yet. The home has five bedrooms, a bathroom, living room, dining room and kitchen. With the inclusion of other family members, 13 people moved into the house. (Plus, an uncle and brother also live in huts next to the house.)
Move-In Day: The Guachi Family is Overwhelmed
On the final day of the project, the family left so the team could finish and set up the house.
“I am sure their minds were full of wonder and joy,” said Paul Fernane, Americas Teams Coordinator. “The move-in day was crazy, busy and full of emotion. The team dashed around painting, finishing the electrical and plumbing, hanging curtains, making the beds, adding sheets, pillow and comforters, filling dressers with clothes and hanging special items on the walls.”
The team team carried the furnishings along a slippery narrow dirt path to the home. The bathroom was outfitted with towels, a medicine cabinet and a shower curtain. The kitchen received a stove, dishes, pots and pans, a blender and other kitchen utilities. The refrigerator and kitchen cabinets were filled with food. A bowl of fruit was placed on the dining room table as the centerpiece. Living room furniture was put in place.
Fernane shared the family’s introduction to their new home: “When they toured the home, their smiles were precious, especially the kids, as they opened the doors and saw the furnishings, clothing and food. They expressed extreme joy and gratitude. It was an awesome time of thanksgiving by both the family and the team. Tears and words of thanks went on for some time, before ER’s Zambiza Program Coordinator, Jose Jimenez, and everyone dedicated the home.”
For the Guachi family, life will never be the same. Hopelessness has been tossed to the curb. Now they have a safe, secure and spacious home, plus hope for the future.
Team Omaha wasn’t done with its service to at-risk families. The hearty volunteers also reached out to the women, children and men at the Zabmbiza Dump, Quito Family Resource Center and ER partner Dunamis.
ER has worked with dump families since 1997. We’ve met hundreds of people desperate to exit poverty. Most won’t make it because the crushing cycle of a lack of income, education and opportunity leaves them hopeless.
We know differently. It is possible to change the lives of families like the Guachis, for this generation and the next. Together, we can provide hope for the future.
Want to be a part of an Extreme Team that changes lives? Visit our Teams Page and watch this video showing on how dump families’ futures have been changed through our home building program.