Yesterday was International Women’s Day, celebrating the power, value and contributions of women all over the world. I am completely humbled when I think about the women in Canzibe, South Africa, whom 25:40 relies on to teach at the Masonwabe Preschool and the 25:40 after care program.
Every weekday, at least 5 women show up on the Canzibe mission to help 25:40 accomplish its mission of empowering chidren to grow up safe, nourished, educated, whole and inspired. Each of the women have a story to share, most of them woven with tragedy. Yet each one endures and overcomes. And they show up for work with smiles on their faces.
In January, I went to Canzibe with Lori Rowley and Monique Fraedrich, shown here far left and back right. We spent several days on the mission in the classrooms with the preschool and after care children and their teachers. But our most moving experience was a prayer meeting we attended one late afternoon at Nothembile’s house. Nothembile, shown far right holding her small daughter, is a teacher at the preschool. This is her new house that neighbors helped her build. She is estranged from her husband and she is raising her children, two younger ones and several older ones, who each have significant issues and obstacles. Yet she shows up at the preschool everyday and works hard. She runs a very organized, fun and nurturing classroom of 5 year olds.
At the prayer meeting were several other women. Nosipho, shown second from left, who is a new teacher at the mission; Thumeka, an aftercare teacher who is pursuing more education to become a social worker for the children and familiies at the aftercare. She is shown in front with the shawl. Carina, third from left, the missionary’s wife, who left a distinguished career in the city as a psychologist to follow God’s call to the rural mission. She home schools her two daughters and tries to integrate herself into the tight-knit Xhosa community. Nosicuelo, not shown in this picture, is a widow who is sending her children to private school and higher education She shows up for work everyday and teaches the youngest preschool class from 8-12, takes a short break and then teaches the youngest aftercare class for another two hours. Trust me, this is exhausting. Phila, also not show in this picture, is 25:40′s project manager for the orphan and vulnerable children project. She is 21 and part of the next generation of South Africans who want a better life for her country. She has chosen a path of positive choices and she is spending her time modeling and encouraging positive choices for young girls in the schools. She also spends time with the aftercare kids, introducing them to new and fun games, teaching them math, looking after their struggles at home.
At the prayer meeting, the women each took turns sharing their very personal and intimate struggles — broken relationships, runaway children, disease and death, physical and emotional abuse. All of us nodded in understanding and sympathy. We white women were given the only bench to sit on across the room from the Xhosa women who sat on the dirt floor, but we were united. We were united not only by our struggles and shared experiences, but also united by our God. We survive and are strenghtened because of God. At the end, we prayed, we cried, we laughed, we embraced, we raised each other up. Together. With God.
Two months later, 6,000 miles apart, I still pray for these women, still keep them in my heart. And on International Women’s Day, these are the women whom 25:40 honors.