The Series – Part 3/3

Happy Monday morning!

If there is ever a series of hours that can be quantifiably considered as the most-hated hours of the week, it would be the poor numbers that comprise of every Monday morning.  I’ve never been one to wholeheartedly share those sentiments, but I can understand those who do.

For most, Monday mornings mark the end of relaxing weekends full of good company, indulging hobbies, and hours of free time. They also serve as a blatant billboard of loud letters that mock you with the unfortunate reality of five long, cruel days before the weekend emerges again. What’s more, is the morning hours are often hardest to overcome – the echoes of dreams still floating through a foggy mind, and the warmth of the cosy bedsheets still reaching out to you. With that perspective, I can fully understand those who see Monday mornings as the detestable hours.

But not so today.

This Monday morning marks 7 days until Christmas, and with the giant snowflakes falling from the clouds, the soft blanket wrapped around my shoulders, and the warm cup of coffee in my hand, I can honestly say that this is a very happy Monday morning indeed.

Additionally, this happy Monday morning marks the final section to my series: the last five stories featured on the Humans of Ottawa page.  I know the stories well. I have read and re-read their words, re-living the moments every time I look at the photos. Each time I do, I am struck again and again of the importance and significance that the faces hold. The impact that their stories can have – and will have. And their stories give me so much joy.

Perhaps their stories can encourage you too, on this very happy Monday morning.


Miriam
Meet Miriam, 18 years old

“Sometimes when I think of that day, I am scared. People tell me that I might die. But I tell them to wait and see what happens.”


Gertrude
Meet Gertrude, mother of 6

“We were married for 16 years before we divorced. It was because of gender-based violence. He was unfaithful, and stealing money for himself. We had seen counsellors, but eventually I knew he was never going to change. I just wanted to be free. Being alone is not easy. Sometimes we still go hungry. But now I have learned how a marriage should work, and I am raising my children to see the difference.”


Florence
Meet Florence, mother of 3

“Both of my previous husbands were unfaithful. It was so painful for me. When they would never be at home, I could just tell that they were with another woman. I don’t know why anyone would cheat. But my children have been gifts from God. It has not been a struggle to raise them, though I am always worried about having enough food.”


Charles
Meet Charles, Nurse and Midwife

“We encourage mothers to give birth at the facility instead of at home, because here they can be properly helped. Sometimes they won’t come because there is no transportation, sometimes because they don’t think they need to. I think it is a matter of ignorance – they just don’t know. Or, they think that they have the experience. They will say, ‘No, this is my 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th child, I already know what to do.’ But if something happens, I would rather them be here at the facility so we can help.”


Makaika
Meet Mr & Mrs Makiaka, Married for 5 years

“Sometimes, you hear a rumor about your spouse, maybe they were here with that person, or there with another. But you can’t just believe it. You must ask them and be open about it. We trust each other.  Growing our garden has helped us work better together too. I dig the ground, and my wife will take away all the weeds. Then we plant the seeds together. Communication is a big thing for couples. For us, we feel free to tell each other what we want or don’t want.”


And thus concludes the series!

I can’t wait to share their full stories with you! So much more is to come.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Partima and I

“I went to the doctor who confirmed that I was two months pregnant. It was so difficult to eat food, I felt sick the entire time. When the labor started, I spent all day and night in pain before they transferred me to the hospital. They had to cut me to make more room for the baby to come. I was there for a very long time afterward. My wish for her is to weigh more. I want her to keep growing.”

I remember what it was like when I realized this young mother and I were the same age. Partima held her little daughter close, shifting to breastfeed her when she became a little too restless. She blushed and turned her head when I mentioned we shared the same birth year.

It was a revealing moment for me – in a different timeline, this young woman and I could have grown up together. We could have known each other our whole lives. Yet we share such different stories.

Every element of our lives is separate from each other; our languages, our cultures, our childhoods, our futures. At twenty-one, Partima has lived a story that I couldn’t begin to imagine myself living. She’s endured an incredibly painful childbirth. She’s had to drop out of school to take care of her little one. She’s married much younger than she anticipated. She’s had to let go of some of her dreams for her future.

And she absolutely adores her young daughter. The love that this mama has for the little one on her lap is something that I don’t have the experience to describe. Though her own life was turned upside down when she discovered she was pregnant, Partima made it clear that she was going to let nothing hurt or hinder her little girl.

Partima’s story is one that I hold close to me. When I left her village that evening, I carried her words at the front of my mind, and have ever since.

Her story is important. Her story is painful. Her story has hope.

Her story is why I’m doing what I’m doing.

You’ll be able to read the whole thing once Mama comes out!

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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P.S! Don’t forget to follow my @humans.of.ottawa for some additional sneak peeks to my stories.

 

 

Babies, blankets and blessings

I am blown away.

Just over one week ago, I sent out a request for donations of baby blankets to take to the women and children that I’ll be speaking with while I’m in Malawi.

The result was an overwhelming display of generosity – what I asked for and then some.

The result was overflowing suitcases, bins, and bags.

The result was over a hundred blankets, baby jumpers, onesies, and caps.

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Not pictured – the huge duffle bag FULL of blankets behind me.

It’s funny how you learn so many things by asking for help.

I have been blessed by the number of donations, inquiring emails, and endless support that my community has given me. Promises of prayer, curious questions, and joyful encouragement have been carrying me through these days leading up to my departure.

Last week, I opened an email from a mother in town, asking me whether the blankets she had left over from her children would suffice. I responded accordingly, but there was a part of her email that struck a chord in my mind.

“I received quite a few baby blankets for my kids, but didn’t have much occasion to use many of them… I’d love to pass them along to someone who could really use them.  My personal experience was that here we might almost have “too many” blankets, as people I checked with already had plenty.”

Her words moved me in a way that I wouldn’t have expected. In one sentence, this mother put into words the feeling of being blessed and the desire to bless others. In recognizing what she has received, she determined her ability to also give. In fact, the blessing of others (in the form of baby blankets for her children) has caused her an overabundance of blessing that she can pour out to those who can “really use them”.

While I don’t believe that it’s possible to have ‘too many’ blessings from God, I do believe that we often keep too many of them to ourselves. I can think of countless examples of where I have withheld generosity instead of ‘spreading the wealth’.

Luckily, this tendency has been completely disregarded where these blankets are concerned. I never could have anticipated the number of blankets sitting in my basement right now, waiting to be delivered to the mothers and children in Malawi.

And for that, I am ever thankful.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Through Hope and Grace

The following story is one that I wrote nearly four years ago.  It paints a picture of the life of Malawian orphan – highlighting their struggle and emphasizing their hope. It’s stories like this, among so many others, that are the inspiration for Mama. It’s stories like this that are the fire behind my passion.

I imagine that the people I spoke to and interacted with have long since graduated from the center described below, but the story itself remains the same.

 

 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8

You wake up to an unfamiliar humidity in the air surrounding you. Rolling over, you are greeted by a blinding ray of sunlight, and as you hastily rub the pain from your eyes, you are able to take in your surroundings. Directly above you is a dried-grass roof, supported by several twisted branches. The bright morning sunlight casts shadows on the mud-brick walls that crudely form the room in which you woke up just moments ago. The aching in your back is explained by the worn, dirt floor you had been sleeping on, cushioned only by a futile pleated mat. Thoroughly confused, and relatively nervous, you make your way to the window, hoping a view of the world outside will clarify your whereabouts. But what greets you is the dazed face of a Malawian orphan, perhaps 17 years of age. You shake your head, had they been looking in the window the whole time? But as you turn, you realize that it is not a window you have been looking into: it’s a mirror. The reflection is you. You are the orphan.

Shocked, you look down at your worn hands, and back into the mirror; as if to confirm what you are seeing is true. The face in the mirror nods, straightens their shirt and proceeds to exit the room, carrying you along with them.  Throughout the day, you find yourself participating in the unfamiliar life of the Malawian youth. You experience going to school hungry, and struggle to understand the difficult concepts being taught to you. When school ends, you walk barefoot in the heat of the African sun, wondering how much nsima, a simple dish made from corn-flour, you will be able to have that night. In addition to the uncertainty you have pertaining to your next meal, you feel the heavy weight of the future resting on you. Even though you have received your acceptance to the college you wanted, you know that there is no way you are going to be able to afford it; it’s a miracle you received the funds to go to secondary school in the first place, to dream of anything more remains as it is –a dream. Instead of your weary body guiding you down the footpath that leads to home, you turn down a different road. The road that leads you to Grace.

Grace. From a common name to a key doctrine in the Christian faith, the word itself has many meanings to people all over the world. But to you, to the orphaned children of Zomba, Malawi, Grace is a centre of hope. It’s a place to go, to receive support, guidance, and encouragement. In this case, Grace is an orphan care centre. Providing after-school tutoring and assistance to the children throughout the city, Grace works to instill Christian morals and teachings, ultimately offering a place of security and understanding; giving hope to the hopeless.

 

Of course, Grace Orphan Care hadn’t always been around for you. It began one sunny afternoon in the house of a gentle, caring soul. You were seven or eight years old when you first met the team at Grace, and over the next 10 years, they were a heavy influence in your growth –your success.  Grace and their supporters were able to raise the funds to build the beautiful building and facility that Grace now was; they had provided the centre with chickens, and other small livestock too. If it hadn’t been for these donors, and ultimately God’s faithfulness, you would not have been joined by another 200 orphans, and you most certainly would not have been able to fund your secondary education.

And God has an incredible way of providing in the most unlikely circumstances. When the news came that this very care center had found the funds to send you to University, there are no more words to be said.

There were 13 of you who would be recipients of the gift, meaning that the money that had come would be spread very thinly. But there was enough to get you through your first year – maybe two – and that was more than you could ask for. The centre was confident that more money would come as the years progressed, and you had faith in this conviction.

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Suddenly, you pop awake. The air around you is dry and grey. There is no blinding sun this time, as the blinds covering the window act as a blockade, restricting the golden rays from prematurely waking you. Rolling over, you realize that you are back in your own room, your own house, your own body.

Had that life simply been a dream? To you, maybe. But it is as much of a dream as it is a reality. The hardships you experienced, the uncertainty you felt, the hunger you saw; it all is more than truth to these children. As is the hope. The hope that God provides is realized by these children through Grace Orphan Care’s work.

Surging with thankfulness, the Malawian orphan stepped from the office into the orange glow of the setting African sun. Just this morning, the sun had been shining, but their future had been covered with shadows. Now, as they emerge from the doors of Grace, the centre that had cared for them for so many years, there was a sense of freedom that the orphan felt.

This gift had opened so many doors that had been considered permanently sealed shut, and while there is always a sense of anxiety about the future, a golden band of light was rising on the horizon for the Malawian orphan.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Are you ready for Mama?

Mama.

The first word that most children learn.

I was surprised to discover that the word is nearly the same in every language.  A quick Google search will bring up lists of translations: ‘Mom’, ‘Mama’, ‘Meme’, ‘Maman’ or ‘Mami’.  With slight variations, the word for Mother can be repeated across the globe and be understood by almost anyone.

Mama is also the title of my next book. 

This book, still under construction, is going to share with you stories from mothers that you may have never considered before. Mama is going to take you to the doorstep of Bimbi Health Facility, specializing in Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Malawi, Africa.

Until a few years ago, I had never before considered the challenges that women and infants in Africa face throughout pregnancy, birth and first years of life. I was introduced to the matter while working on an article for an NGO’s Maternal Health project, and the research I was uncovering broke my heart. How could young mothers and children really survive in these kinds of conditions?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO),

  • Approximately 830 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
  • 99% of these deaths occur in developing nations.
  • Almost all of these deaths occurred in low-resource settings, and most could have been prevented.
  • Skilled care before, during and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborn babies.

They have been overlooked for so long. Their nutrition has gone unnoticed, their health care centers sit in lonely disrepair, their education forgot about and unprioritized. As Canada and the West developed their medical and birthing practices, we left Africa behind in the dust, and it’s only now that we are taking notice.

It is important to reveal these stories to a world so unaware of their existence. Stories of poverty, of childbirth, of suffering. Equally important are the stories of tragedy that are coupled with truth and healing.

The ones that are riddled with pain, yet plastered with hope. The ones that offer a solution to the tragedies that are hidden in the corners of the world. It is important to present this hope because it influences societies to react, to pursue the solution and to remedy the suffering.

This book is to be a lesson to a world who hasn’t yet noticed the mothers and children of Africa; this book is to be a megaphone for the mothers and children who haven’t had their voices heard.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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