Heartrending Stories, Radiant Beauty

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

Extreme Women-1At 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.

Extreme Women-2I 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 Women-4Extreme 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 kmcclelland@extremeresponse.org or visit http://www.extremeresponse.org/our-programs/womens-advocacy.

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