Sacrificing for success

This week, ONE is joining 10 bloggers who are making their way through Kenya to see what life is really like for moms in the developing world. Follow along and check their progress at http://one.org/us/actnow/moms.

“Sacrificing for success” -– that was Tabitha’s motto.

ONE Moms in Kenya

I was thinking about those words today as I walked into Kibera, the largest slum in Africa (think Central Park, N.Y., with 1 million people living in squalor).

We were in Kibera to see the slum and meet a few people in particular: Rye Barcott, co-founder of Carolina for Kabera and author of “It Happened On the Way to War,” and Mercy, a single mom living in the slum.

The first stop was Carolina for Kibera (CFK), the organization Rye co-founded when he was a marine-in-training. He started it because he wanted to do something to help young people in Kibera, Kenya. While visiting Kibera on a break from boot camp, he had given $26 dollars to Tabitha Atieno Festo, a widowed mother of three, after she told him she would use the money to buy and sell vegetables. Six months later, Tabitha had saved $130 and used it to open a four-room health clinic, her life dream.

Having just celebrated its tenth anniversary, the clinic is called the Tabitha Medical Clinic and is part of Carolina for Kibera, the organization Rye and Tabitha co-founded with Salim Mohamed. It is housed in a new open-air facility with the latest in digital technology and serves 40,000 people every year.

“This new clinic was built by hand, by the hands of the community,” said Rye as he led us through Kibera to see the site of Tabitha’s original clinic. “During the violence around the election when the clinic was partially built, thugs came to try to loot the clinic. Residents in the community surrounded it and created a human wall to protect it.”

We were on our way back to the new clinic when Rye leaned down and took his shoes off. By way of explanation, he told us that CFK had just started a new campaign, called the Power of 26 in honor of the original $26, to give people a way to experience aspects of life in the slum. Today’s challenge was to walk barefoot. So with that our small group — Ginny Brooks, Tabitha’s son Kevin, and I — all took off our shoes and walked the rest of the walk with Rye, an experience we won’t soon forget.

After cleaning up, five of us ONEMoms walked back through Kibera to visit Mercy, who has a leadership role in CFK’s program for girls, Binti Pamoja, or in English, the daughters united.

Mercy lives with her four-year-old daughter Nicole in a six-by-eight room where she works as a hair stylist when she is not at CFK. Mercy’s mother, also a hairdresser, died when Mercy was 15, leaving Mercy to care for her 10-year-old sister.

“My mother’s salon was called Salon Mercy and when I open my own salon, I want to name it Salon Nicole after my daughter too,” said Mercy. “I want my daughter to have a better life, to be a doctor.”

Mercy went on to describe how her young daughter carefully lets bugs go free and takes care of friends if they ever get a scratch.

To the ONE Moms, Mercy was one of us, wanting the very best for her daughter and doing whatever was needed to give it to her.

Daily Action: Today we’re meeting with entrepreneurs in Karen, Kenya who are leading in building their communities’ economies and providing opportunities to others. Check out ONE’s report “Africa’s Future is Female” to learn more about how women are leading a revolution on the continent. Then, using hashtag #ONEMoms, tell @ONECampaign one thing that surprised you. Or leave a comment on our Facebook page.

-Emily McKhann, the Motherhood Blog