Thursday, May 26, 2011

No fear - in new beginnings...

I am sure that all of us have a certain amount of fear, trepidation or apprehensiveness when starting something new.  It could be because we have no idea what it's going to be-sorta of a fear of the unknown-Or it could be it is something that seems way above our heads, out of our comfort zone or that we are not trained for.  For me this 'feeling' is like the first day of Jr. High ( grade 8)-you have more than one teacher, whole new groups of people-that you may not know or 'fit' with;  Not to mention you are 13-the epitome of awkward-well, I sure was!

Now let's contextualize this to Liberia and our CLP program.  Recently, our CLP team headed by Joni and her coordinator Andrew started to roll out the CLP program in a village called Jawahjay.  What does this mean?  It means Andrew meets with the community leaders and the women who are interested in registering in the program.  To decide what level they are at-Andrew administers a very simple test-he will say a letter or number and they have to write it down.  They are asked to try and read simple words or draw a picture of something like a house.  From this Andrew and Joni can see what level the women are and what class they will be put into-'beginner' or 'intermediate'.

For many of these women it is the first time they have tried writing letters or numbers-many don't even know what they are.  Here are some examples of the test results...

Miatta would be put into a beginners class.
Joni holding two other tests written by women ranging from 30 years old- 50.
Massa may be able to enter the intermediate class.

As you can see from these test results, these women are in need of CLP!!! When I first saw the tests it reminded me of when Isaac and Felix first learned to hold a pencil and draw when they were just 2-3 years old.  However, these drawings and attempts at writing have been done by women in their late twenties, thirties and into their fifties!  These women are starting something new-something they have never done before-and I have no doubt that yes, they are excited but also maybe a little nervous of the 'unkown'.

But-they are going to do it!  Both the beginners class and intermediate classes started this past week.

Excited new CLP student! 

Part of starting something new is putting your pride aside so you can be receptive to learn.  These women are brave and not afraid to admit that they do not know how to write or read their own name.  Excitement and eagerness replaces fear and although I am sure they are still unaware  of the 'unknown' -they are taking the steps to face that unknown with confidence.

I equate this to the same feeling I have before starting to train for another race.  I am unsure-yet excited, apprehensive-yet thankful for another opportunity-but, unlike these women-I can be fearful-"what if I am not fully recovered and injure myself?", "what if I don't reach my goal again?".  This feeling transcends running-it could be the start of a new job, moving to a new country or town, or when you are about to become a new parent...

I hope in those moments of fear that I (and you) can think on this instead- In Jawahjay, a village in Liberia-there are women starting CLP classes-learning new skills which will give them the opportunity to step into other 'new beginnings' without any fear...
There is still time to give if you would like!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ishtar and Capt.Obvious..

No, I am not talking about some bad 80's movie or a weird superhero-I am talking about my two sons.  Isaac (aka Ishtar, Mr. magoogoo, Isaac-o and dude).  And Felix (aka feelix-o, ol' papa, buddy, Capt. Obvious and dude).  I have mentioned my boys here and there on this blog-specifically as it pertains to why I run.  How they are always watching what I am doing, how I want to be a good example for them and how they run with me on occasion. 

In 2006...they were so small I bathed them in buckets!!

If you have not yet noticed...(then you need glasses) my boys are, as they would say, "brown".  Yes, we adopted both of them from Haiti, Isaac 7 years ago and Felix a year later.  We never planned or expected that to be parents we would have to adopt-but to make a long story short, adoption was are only option.  God's plan, of course, is perfect and I see that everyday when I look at my boys.  I can honestly say that we would not be here in Liberia, if we would have had our own biological children-when we should have had them (we should have a 17 year old!!! MERCY!).  But let me reiterate -God's plan is perfect-and He gave us the perfect boys to compliment what He wanted us to do-and for now that is being here in Liberia.  So let's get to know these young men a little more...

...Five years later-look at these dashing young boys! Isaac(glasses) and Felix

I do have two videos that I have been trying to load-they are interviews with the boys...with no success-but I will try on another blog entry in the meantime pictures will have to do-sorry!

I am a very blessed mom, for many reasons-one being that my boys are best friends and on the whole get along very, very well.  However, you could not find two more DIFFERENT boys-let me explain:  First, you have your 'philospher', 'question everything', sensitive soon as he comes in the door it is a rapid fire of questions here are some example of his questions:

'mommy what is for dinner?' 
'mommy what is a bailout?' 
'mommy, are only brown people poor?' (yeah that one-was an interesting discussion...) 
'mommy what is that spice?'
'mommy what is a PhD?'
'mommy what is philosophy?'
'mommy who was Osama?'
'mommy are you tired? you look tired...' (thanks...).

There are times when I have to ask him to stop asking questions and just give mommy a few moments to rest.  Or I do the classic "go ask your father..."  But his mind, it really is amazing-always asking 'why?' and not just on kid things-on heavy life things-"mommy what is slavery?"  "What is debt?"  "Why did Jesus have to be baptized if He is God?"-yeah this is just a me!

Isaac singing solo at VBS in the village of Forkpata- he sang an Liberian chorus "There was a man his name was Job.."

Then there is Felix-who reminds me of myself at that age.  Very independent, trying to help to the point of getting into trouble and off doing his own thing sometimes leading to trouble...  Building lego structures that take him hours-and are amazing, drawing in three dimensional, taking things apart to see how it works, he could sit and watch mythbusters for hours, he is my mister logical, very literal and always stating the obvious.  For example, we went to Disney World and he was asking if the things there were 'real'  I said no- (as in not a real moose, or a real T-rex) his response was "then why do they have it here?"  Ummmm son hate to break it to you but this whole "Disney" thing is not real...he is all about the facts.  He is incredibly orderly, neat and has a gumpy like spine that allows him to do backflips and front flips like an Olympic gymnist-but mischievous, and sneaky-he hides and scares his brother EVERY day-after they shower-and gets Isaac EVERY time...not surprisingly, he wants to be a police man when he grown up.

Felix handing out Christmas shoe boxes

As different as they are they also have commonalities-one of them being their HUGE hearts.  I am not saying this because they are my kids-if any of you know me-I am a little bit of an- ahem...Sgt. Mom ;)  but seeing my boys participate in our projects or come to me with money/toys/clothes that they want to give to some 'kids in the village' makes this tough mom get a little teary.  I am so proud of them-regardless of what they do in life-their heart is what I am most concerned with. 

Mother's Day walk on the beach...

Marathon Flashback-mile 18 and 19 of the marathon:  I am starting to get really sore-and very tired-I look down at my pace/gratitude band and see two names-Isaac and Felix.  Their faces fill my mind like a full blown wall mural-I want to cry, I want them to be proud of me, I want them to grow up to be men of God...these thoughts flood my mind and I hold back tears.  The road for these boys to be our boys-was not easy, I will fully admit, and the lifestyle that we made them part of-is also, not easy.  But God's plan is perfect and He blessed us with the perfect boys for the life He has given us...and that has made understanding why my plan didn't come to fruition a whole lot easier...

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Sustainability...this is a word that in development work we use often.  Wilkepedia defines sustainability as "the capacity to endure".  My trusty thesaurus (that was a gift from my sister to my brother-but I now have!:), expands on that definition with words such as, "constant", "perpetual" and "continuous".  In the relief and development world we talk a lot about "sustainable projects"-donors want to know "So, how will this project become sustainable?" In other words "If you come back here in 20 years will this project still be going?" A question that all of us program managers cringe when we hear!  It's not that we don't have an answer-it's just that the answer depends on many factors; such as proper training from our staff to the beneficiary, transfer of technology, education, the beneficiaries capacity and most important the beneficiaries desire to change.

So without going any further and boring you with development theory, let's just say that sustainability is important-it is a great triumph if your project is sustainable or at least has a sustainability plan-and if it doesn't -shame on you! Kidding...

Where am I going with this...well, the SP CLP program has been 'testing' a sustainable CLP program in the Bopolu area.  What does this mean?  It means that the teachers are volunteer-they do not get paid, it means that the church has to provide gas for the generators and lights for the evening classes, it means the students have to bring their own pens/pencils and copy books.  It means the community is responsible to keep the program going.  SP supplies the curriculum and we have one coordinator who goes to the different villages to encourage them to keep going.

So how is it going?  At first, even our donor did not think it would be successful-which is understandable, you are asking people who are mostly farmers and marketers to continue and endure (see definition of sustainability) on their own with only encouragement from SP.  After almost a year-classes are still going, students are still learning and class numbers have not decreased!  Don't believe me?  Here are some of the pictures I took on a recent visit to one of our CLP sustainability classes...

One of the students of the CLP sustainability classes writing her name for us!

The Sappimah CLP sustainability class, teachers, teaching asst. and coordinators.

For this project we also let the community decide if they wanted to include men in the classes.  They have and it is a great encouragement to see men coming to learn to also help their family.  A project like this is a great illustration of the capacity of the people of Liberia.  They endured and sustained themselves through a horrific war-and now they are using that same capacity to continue the CLP program.

When I thought about this story and the definition of sustaining I was taken back a month ago as I ran the London marathon.  The words 'capacity to endure' that defines sustainability, reminded me how the SP team members felt as we ran those long miles.  I only had to endure for 5:10min.  The CLP classes of Sappimah have endured and continued for months-and will continue if they so choose maybe for years!!  I was reminded once again how people like the students of the CLP classes were the reason I ran, they pushed my to sustain, endure, continue and to ultimately finish.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Are you my mother?

Does anyone remember that book about the little bird who can't find his mother?  It was and is one of my favorite kids books of all time.  If you have it-get it out and read it with your kids!

In honour of mother's day-I would like to write about a certain mom that I met last week in Bopolu.  Ma Nella (I believe that is what her name is-that's how I heard it!), was a member of our CLP program starting in 2009.  Through the CLP program she received rabbits to raise and sell as part of the small business aspect of the program.  Two years later-and many rabbits later-Ma Nella has been able to sell some of her rabbits to help her son graduate from high school.  She still has 7 very healthy and large rabbits too!
Ma Nella with her daughter.  Behind her is her rabbit shelter that she built.

When I asked Ma Nella what she did with her rabbits-a huge smile came over her face as she proudly stated " I sold them to help my son graduate from high school."  Mom's do a lot for their kids, sacrifice their time, their resources and many other things-but they do it because the love their kids.  Ma Nella is a mom that loves her kids-and uses the training that she has received through the CLP program to help them have a better future.  As a mom, I can say that all of us moms want our kids to have a better future-and we will do anything to help them-just like Ma Nella.

This morning, I stumbled out of bed and went into the kitchen to get my much needed morning coffee.  Before I reached the kitchen, I could hear some clammering of dishes and little voices talking.  As I walked in-I was welcomed with "MOM get OUT of the kitchen!!" So out I went-Felix brought me my coffee and soon I was summoned to the table for an amazing breakfast.
Felix, Mom and Isaac-with our marathon shirts! (Thanks to Adrian and Hayley Bell in the UK for getting me a shirt on e-bay-you guys are awesome!)

Ma Nella and I have one main thing in common-we are mom's and would do anything for our kids.  I am so thankful for the CLP program who have helped mom's like Ma Nella-it has had a huge impact on her and her kids.  What a great privilege to be a part of it!

This morning as we ate breakfast-Isaac and Felix told me what they like best about are some of their answers:

Isaac- "You are a really, really good cook!"
Felix- "You can run really hard."
Isaac-"You are a good host."
Felix- "You play catch with me."
Both of them-"You are nice to other people!"
Isaac: "You teach me about God"

One of the things that makes me really proud as a mom is when I hear my boys talk about how they want to run or ask me if they can run a race with me. As I have stated before one of the many reasons I run is to be a good example to my boys-that they too will want to be active.

Seven years ago to the day-I was in Haiti, nervous, as I was about to become a mom to a little boy.  As the great staff at God's Littlest Angels handed me a little pudgy, frowning, afro, little 14 month old named Exzaire-I was not sure what I had gotten myself into!  However, it did not take me to long to realize that, like Ma Nella and her son, I would do anything for him-love him-and try and be the best mom I could for him. Isaac Exzaire Rhodes-adoption birthday is on mother's day the best gift I have ever been given! 

Now, go phone your mom and tell her how much you love her and how thankful you are for her!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Power of Forgiveness...

This past week I had a chance to take our new intern Ashley and our SPUS guest Cathy to Bopolu to see some of our projects.  We saw CLP and WASH projects-how encouraging!  I want to start with a WASH story and my next blog entry will be about CLP-hope that is ok with everyone ;)

Small Bong Mines is a village that we have worked in for over 5 years...It is one of the most enjoyable communities to work with.  Our very first project there was BioSand water filters and then we followed up with latrines.  We have had filters there for a looooonnnggg time and every time I return-they are still working providing clean water for families.  I would like to thank at this time, Leigh-Anna Pitts (WASH intern 2006) and Sarah Singer (WASH trainee 2006) for being the main WASH peeps to establishing not only a great project in this community, but also lasting relationships that are still remembered. 

One of the many filters in Small Bong Mines...

Pastor Mark and his community, from day 1 caught the vision of partnering with SP to help re-build their community-that was destroyed by the war.  As a result, they have worked with us to improve their water and sanitation issues, implement a sheep and goat project and helped re-build their church.  All of this was done with the community taking the lead and being a joy to work with.  

On our visit-pastor Mark told us an incredible story that once I heard it, I couldn't wait to share it with all of you.  During the civil war in Liberia, Small Bong Mines was pillaged and destroyed.  Everyone fled. Rebels came through and burnt the church and homes.  When pastor Mark returned there were only 2 houses left standing-everything else was a pile of burnt rubble.

Pastor Mark went on to say that a little while ago a truck broke down on the road that passes by Small Bong Mines.  It was late at night and a man from the truck came to the village asking if there was somewhere he could spend the night.  The elders of the village met and decided that they would let the man stay at the church, feed him and give him some clean water (from a BSF) to drink.  That night as the men sat and talked to the stranger-the man went on to explain that he was a rebel during the war.  He was one of the rebels who came through and burnt Small Bong Mines.  He told the community in detail how they burnt the church-and left only two houses up-he pointed to them-and they were the same houses that pastor Mark had indicated.  The village still let him sleep there.

Would you give your valuable clean water to your enemy?

The next morning when the man was to leave he said to Pastor Mark "please forgive me yah?"  Pastor Mark replied, "My man, GOD has forgiven you and so have we".  Whoever is reading this I want you to really let this sink in. 

Imagine your town, your house burnt by rebels looking to kill, rape and destroy-you flee and for 14 years never are able to return.  Peace comes and you go back to find your town and home are poor-you have to rebuild slowly, whenever you have enough money.  Then one day-years later- the very man who carried out the terrible acts on your village is in your town asking for shelter, food and water.  What would you do? 

"...Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others"- Colossians 3:13

Recently, we have seen the power and even celebration of revenge.  When I heard this story I was almost moved to tears-honestly I was- a village forgives the very man who destroyed all that they had.  I don't think that we, fully understand the power of forgiveness.  For those of us who have been forgiven by an amazing Savior, we get a taste of it-and man, how powerful it is...

Please understand-I have no idea what I would do-would I forgive someone who had destoryed my home?  I don't know-so please don't think I am judging-but what if the world forgave like the people of Small Bong Mines did?  I am pretty sure it would be a very different place...

I leave you with this powerful piece of Scripture found in Romans 12:17-21(NLT).

"Never pay back evil for evil to ANYONE.  Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.  Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible.  Dear friends, never avenge yourselves.  Leave that to God.  For it is written,

"I will take vengeance;I will repay those who deserve it"-says the Lord. 

"Instead, do what Scriptures say:  "If your enemies are hungry, feed them.  If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you."

"Do not let evil get the best of you, but CONQUER evil by doing good!"

I will update on my post-marathon running and possible races in my next blog...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Now what?

That is the question.  Now what?  When is the next race?  The next run?  I did run a little with the kids at running club-felt good at the time...however, after not so much.  The right hip is sore to touch-sore when I get up out of bed, out of a chair-or get out of the truck.  In my mind I am running-I want to run so bad-two weeks ago I was running the marathon-I want to get back there so badly!  Today my sister Yeiko, sister-in-law Kimmy and their friend Dana are running a 10km in British Columbia-how I wish I was running with them!

I have to rest.  More than the two weeks that I expected.  I will do some strength training-but no running.  This is VERY hard for me. I miss sweating.  I miss that runners high after a great run.  I miss 'getting away', running the stress right out of my body one sweat droplet at a time.  I miss figuring out my minute/mile average.  I miss pushing myself to another level. 

Running is not my identity.  I am a runner.  I am also many other things.  Most importantly I am God's creation, uniquely wired like no one else.  I am thankful that He has made me a runner.

So, for now I will have to be patient with my hip, take care of it, get stronger-so that when it is time to start running I am ready for the next challenge.  Rumour around here is that there is a race (10km, half and full marathon) planned for here in Monrovia in August.  If it is true-I will be running in it for sure!  Probably the half marathon and hopefully with some of my SP buddies!  Will keep you posted...

I am heading up country tomorrow to visit some projects one being a CLP project.  I am really looking forward to getting up country to be with those we work with.  I will give an update upon my return!  These are the projects that the money raised through the marathon will go towards.