A neophyte warrior’s amazing journey beating cancer

Meggie finds her true strength as a woman that cancer cannot beat. She is every woman’s hero for the inspiring courage.

Guest Blogger: Margareth Rose “Meggie” Santos

I always keep in mind that God is enough.

If I have Him, I have all that I need. I don’t want to sound like a preacher but my heart is always filled with joy every time I think how God made miracles in my life.

My 2-year cancer story is among the most spectacular miracles I personally witnessed.

The day I knew I had cancer was not the day I went to see the doctor. I knew I had it years back. Just like the rest of us when we feel something, I always ignored believing it will come to pass. Denial is an easy excuse to face a sordid reality.

The pain would be intermittent. Sooner than I thought, my breast was already deformed and had a discharged.

I kept my condition to myself.

I was worried at the cost of getting sick, and with my family members “depending ” on me, coming out with the truth that I had cancer would like an explosion.

One day I decided I should do it. I stopped smoking and went to see my pastor friend Efren and his wife Winnie. 

Smiling and putting up a brave front after my 2nd chemotherapy last October 2015.

Honestly, I didn’t know how to handle the situation. Telling my family and discussing the financial aspect of the treatment were difficult.

I only had a part time job and had very little savings left.We prayed for guidance before they accompanied me to my doctor.

But God always has His ways.

That August weekend,  my friends and I planned a trip to Davao. I took it as an opportunity that it would be the right time to tell them my story. But it never happened.

After a 3-hour trip and shopping, I took a shower. That was when my wound bled profusely that I almost consumed a roll of toilet paper. It never stopped.

There was no other way but call for help and told my friends that I needed to be brought to the hospital. It came as a shock to them because nobody knew my lump was already in that advanced stage.

After that frightful evening at Davao Doctors Hospital, everything was never the same again.

We went home to General Santos City the following day. I was brought to specialists and one test came after the other. When all the results were out I knew I was in advanced stage of invasive ductal carcinoma.

Mine was sadly a case of neglect.

My doctor said cancer nowadays doesn’t have to be that damaging as it used to be. As long as your body is receptive to the medicines, you can be treated. That was were I anchored my hopes on.

I am fortunate that my doctor, Dr. Cortez happened to be a very close family friend. It is important that we trust our doctors.

That evening I prayed to God and asked Him for me to get well and for Him to guide me in all of my decisions.

All smiles after finishing my 8th chemo session.

Truly, God’s way is amazing. 

The outpouring of support was overwhelming.

Friends near and afar, family members, high school classmates and batch mates from Batch 77 of Notre Dame raised funds for my medication.

My former colleagues from South Cotabato ll Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Socoteco 2) and party mates from politics, friends from Rotary, my prayer support group from Singles For Christ and a lot more.

I told myself in jest it pays to be Ms. Friendship. God has blessed me with friends who stood by me.

My first chemotherapy treatment was on September 22, 2015.

I needed six and an additional two more sessions. On March 30, 2016, I have completed eight. Each time I went to the hospital for the session, I would ask God for strength. The prayers helped me complete my medications without any complication.

I had my mastectomy and on July 12, 2016 then my repeat biopsy after. The result was favorable. All of the 10 lymph nodes test were negative.

My cancer stage was downgraded from stage 4 to stage 2b. I still undergo daily treatment and calcium shots every six months to strengthen my bones. These procedures could continue for the rest of my life but I already claim my victory!

My journey battling cancer was easier because my friends, even people I hardly knew, fought with me. We did it together!

I have claimed that the Lord has healed me. Now I am a woman of faith coming out stronger, braver and bolder. I thank the Almighty for blessing me with a family who stood by me all through out my journey. We’re all in these together.

A young friend whose mom didn’t survive cancer gave me this book. It was the first I’ve read while going through the ordeal and got so much inspiration from it.

I am a neophyte warrior, happy and contented with God’s mercy. I have just been blessed with another lifetime. We have an amazing God who heals. Cancer is just a chapter in our life and not the whole story.

Nowhere in my life has this saying became even more meaningful, ”Where there is great love, there can always be miracles”.

I find joy and gladness not only today but in almost everyday of my life because it has been said that contentment only comes when we realise God is all we need.

There are infinite possibilities in life. In my own experience, one can never be a loser because you get something good out of being hurt. You become stronger in spirit and closer to God, Life acquires more meaning.

It is just sad we have to experience pain before we value life and learn to live it to the full.

Meggie is now an active member of the Cancer Society of GenSan sharing her story and inspiring more women to support the fight against breast cancer.

Every woman should do these:

  1. Go to your doctor and do not waste time in denial. I learned this the hard way. This doesn’t have to happen to you.
  2. Prepare yourself for the results. Keep yourself strong. Our lives are tested by the courage we face every challenge. 
  3. Leave the treatment and other processes to the the experts: your doctor and God. After all is said and done, let your faith take over.
  4. Do your daily journal. In my case, it gives me a sense of worth. You see your journey very clearly.
  5. Do not be ashamed to ask for prayers. It helps a lot. My friends and acquaintances stood by me and I never felt alone.
  6. Ask God to heal you. He listens.

My family is my source of strength and inspiration

I realized life can be lived simply without racing for time. Cancer made me slow down and be thankful everyday. 

o0o

Margareth Rose Santos, or fondly called Meggie by friends, now teaches part time at Brokenshire School of Socsargen, Inc. and is based in General Santos City, Philippines. She continues to be an active member of the Rotary Club of Dadiangas and the Cancer Society of GenSan. In her free time, she still takes part in Socoteco-2 activities where she was a former Institutional Development Manager. Meggie was also a former Sangguniang Lunsod member (city councilor) of Gensan.

Manic for organic: The Victor Neal Palarca success story

Victor Neal “Loloy” Palarca won as 2015 Best Presenter and Best Learning Site for his farm at the Mindanao Zonal Assessment of Learning Sites on Organic Agriculture by ATI Central Office.

By Vic Thor Palarca

Defying most conventional beliefs on agriculture and challenging traditional farming system, he dared to demonstrate that growing food and eating them fresh in one’s backyard can be done—regardless of location and circumstances.

Testing the Waters

Tagcatong, Carmen, Agusan del Norte – A businessman almost all of his life, Victor Neal Palarca, or “Loloy” as he is fondly called, envisioned being healthy and disease-free. When he ventured into farming, little did he know that his lifestyle and attitude towards mindful consumption of anything organic will change him and his family for the better.

Recalling his childhood days, Loloy says, “I remember the basics of gardening because in my elementary years, gardening has been a constant activity back then, next to going to school and playing. It makes sense to me now that I realized it was an integral part of my daily routine”.

At first, his challenge was not his hometown’s bleak agricultural scenario but the prevailing frame of mind among residents that their soil is highly acidic and is not suitable for farming. Most seasoned farmers ahead of his time have been steeped in traditional farming system using harmful chemicals like pesticides and insecticides.

Will he be able to convince his own neighbours and his community in general that going organic is the way to go? After all, his savvy entrepreneurial skills leave less to be desired now that he has stepped in to a venture which is relatively new to him.

Shattering expectations

His farm is now a Learning Site of ATI in the CARAGA Region in the Philippines. It is composed of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Dinagat Islands, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur provinces.

Loloy’s integrated and diversified organic farm right in his own backyard silenced skeptics and cynics alike because of the farming technology he has learned in his involvement with the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) via the Department of Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture (OA) Program. As a training participant, he made sure that the principles and knowledge he has learned is put to practice. Testing those principles is highly imperative because he believes that what works for other farmers might not work for him.

One of the immediate steps he did to avert the soil problem was to apply Bio-Char, a pulverized charcoal which serves as an agent to neutralize the acidity of the soil. The application of carbonized rice hull and bokashi also greatly improved the condition of his soil since it functioned as soil conditioner to amend mineral deficiency.

He also put up a water pump in the middle of his demo farm to keep his leafy greens hydrated and for the convenience of watering his plots of vegetables and rows of root crops.

Meanwhile, aside from the trainings he gets to attend, he reads online materials and research findings to further enhance his knowledge on organic farming with US Department of Agriculture and Philippne Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (PCAARRD-DOST) as his frequently visited websites.

It was only in 2011 when Loloy started his organic farming operations since his demo farm was originally planned as a leisure farm on an experimental basis. He now produces vegetables and root crops such as carrots, squash, bitter gourd, cucumber, tomato, eggplant, okra, lettuce, malabar spinach, ginger, string beans, bell pepper and sweet potatoes.

He has a fully utilized 500 square-meters of sustainable integrated organic farm which is now also a sprawling breeding ground for his 60 native chickens, 10 organic-fed large whites and three Anglo Nubian goats as part of his livestock entourage. His cooped native chickens are bordered with madre de cacao trees which at the same time serve as forage for his Anglo-Nubian goats. The litter flooring of his piggery consists of rice hull mixed with salt and effective microorganisms (EM) to combat foul odor.

Acquiring a 3,000 square meter land for expansion, he plans to expand his demo farm by having a fruit orchard.

Loloy is about to forge a partnership with FeedPro, one of the leading commercial feeds in Mindanao which boasts of its natural feed ingredients for their “Baboyang Walang Amoy” campaign project. Perhaps, his efforts to make hog raisers adapt his prescribed technology for an odor-free community paid off.

A Social Message

He is working hard for the farm to become a full-pledge Agri-Tourism site in the Philippines.

Loloy’s drive and resolve to eat nothing but the best has rubbed off on to his family since his wife and kids (and a handful of nieces and nephews) help him tend and manage his garden. The value of organic farming have now secured a spotlight among his circle of farmer friends since he serves as Vice-President to the organized Tagcatong Diversified Organic Farmers (TADOFA) with 23 active members.

As part also of his civic responsibility, he shares his knowledge and expertise to anyone interested in OA through techno-transfers and on site lectures in his demo farm since Loloy happens to be a member of the Municipal Agriculture and Fisheries Council (MAFC).

He makes himself visible by regularly attending trade fairs and agri-business events nationwide as well as the Regional Organizational Meeting of Organic Farmers as organized by Department of Agriculture – Regional Field Office in Caraga (DA-RFO-XIII). He concurs that through family farming, the members of the family will be encouraged to promote farming as a key solution to food security.

Aside from the health and practical reasons, Loloy advocates OA because of the following reasons: it promotes sustainable use of natural resources; it is economical and cost-efficient; it helps reduce hunger incidence in the countryside and it protects the environment and all the farm produce is safe since it is 100% organic and is pesticide-free.

To date, Loloy markets his season’s harvest at a reasonable price in his community and to an expat who is a regular patron. Although he does not rely on his harvest to financially support his family since he has a thriving garments business, Loloy admits that his organic farming venture is for keeps. “I want to make a bold statement that organic farming is here to stay and that it is neither a fad nor a trend because it sustains our well-being as well as the situation of our environment. For me, that is worth investing in our time and efforts”, he adds.

The Farming Saga Continues

Loloy’s humble agricultural venture has grown into a haven for every farmer in the country.

So far, Loloy has already attended several workshops and training events relevant to his organic farming venture which was made possible by ATI’s intervention and support.

The technologies he apply on his demo farm were the very technologies he got from his trainings complemented by his research of the latest breakthroughs in organic farming on the internet.

I was motivated to show and convince my farmer colleagues that farming in your own yard is viable and can be done despite odds and unfavorable conditions”, he enthused. What made the difference were the diverse farming technologies he applied to suit and work well on his farming needs.

Some of his best farming practices include the use of Effective Microorganisms (EM), Indigenous Microorganisms (IMO) for his piggery, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Oriental Herbal Nutrients (OHN), Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ), Fish Amino Acid with molasses as natural plant fertilizer, Inoculants to enhance and condition the soil and seaweeds as wonder plant food.

Meanwhile, Loloy takes pride in his practice of zero-waste farming which helps him and his family in disposing/recycling their waste products. He practices crop rotation and does not follow the traditional farming calendar.

There is no denying that Loloy’s venture to organic farming is a deliberate and decisive approach to support sustainable agriculture as well as promote family farming in his community.

With a new attitude and outlook to growing his food and eating them fresh too, Loloy is confident with the way things turned out and content with the very soil he have grown to cultivate.

“I want to make a bold statement that organic farming is here to stay and that it is neither a fad nor a trend because it sustains our well-being as well as the situation of our environment. For me, that is worth investing in our time and efforts”

Freshly-picked dragon fruits grown from the Palarca farm.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vic Thor A. Palarca is one of the content developers of ATI-Northern Mindanao. As their Media Production Specialist-II, he writes news articles, features, success stories regularly as well as video scripts as part of his annual targets. He is also involved in coming up with Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials, corporate newsletter, coffee table book and courseware development.

He is in-charge of the production and publication of BAHANDI, a coffee table book and collection of inspiring stories in farming in Region-X as well as contributed to the conceptualization and publication of e-Extension AGENDA, the official publication of the Agricultural Training Institute for e-Learning. He assists in the conduct of trainings by his peers and sometimes serves as a Resource Person. He was once an information services agent of the defunct Knowledge Products Management Division (now Information Services Division or ISD) and have brushed elbows with the Central Office peeps but decided to pursue the countryside to live the provincial life.

A self-confessed 90’s pop crusader, he is soulmates with Shannen Doherty and Tom Hardy. He is a full-time uncle and a part-time loon. He enjoys cafeteria conversations and deja vu. He is allergic to Mathematics. He ships regularly to the charming island of Camiguin. He can be predictable judging by his habitat and niche namely bookstores, libraries and book nook at home. His brain is pretty much scattered.

Moving to Argentina from Indonesia, I found my groove as a woman and a housewife

By Enda Balina

From a humanitarian to full-time housewife in a new country, Enda found a new and worthy challenge to scale.

Many women have to choose between their career or their family at some points of their life. My time to choose came right after I just completed my advanced study abroad. I joined my then-new husband who was deployed to Argentina.

Switching my life from a humanitarian worker to become a housewife was not as easy as I initially thought. I imagined it would not be hard to adapt to a new city. After all, I have been living in different places over the few years and I survived. I was wrong.

Not only that the Latin’s culture is very different from Indonesian, my being unemployed often pierced my self esteem & confidence. I think one of my hardest challenge at that time was transitioning to not having work and become dependent to my husband. I have never out of job in my life, it took me a while to make peace with my new status as ama de casa (housewife).

She found a family away from home – and more. Learning a new language and navigating through a new culture were tough but enriching.

Wherever I go, “What do you do for a living?” is often the third question being asked by the people I meet after my name & where I came from. Before moving, I completed my Masters in Development Studies where the main focus was on gender issues. I also worked for eight years in the humanitarian industry that embraced gender equality. When I made this move, some people that I know questioned my decision to give up my job and independence.

Isn’t it strange that the society does not appreciate someone who is choosing a family over work? People often belittle the important role of a mother and a wife, stereotyping a housewife as a domestic task even if it is a full-time job. Often people ask me what I do everyday to make myself busy.

I took this as a challenge to change some mindsets, conscious that even I myself used to have it. I took Spanish courses to enable me to speak faster. I got involved in various social charity activities to support our embassy leading an Indonesian women’s association and joined the diplomatic spouses’ group enabling me to meet new friends from different countries. I also signed up in many random courses like free Spanish conversation clubs, pottery class, yoga and even French class!

Being a housewife has more than pluses than minuses. “I can travel as much and anytime I want.”

Still, I often found it difficult when I had to introduce myself to new acquaintances. Answering questions where I work was the toughest of all. Indeed we live in a world where a job determines your identity and are judged by work and professional engagement. I found this harsh.

In reality, being a housewife brought me lots of wonderful experiences and opportunities to meet people, something that I would probably have missed out if I moved to Buenos Aires for a job.

I met lots of people from around the world with amazing stories. I have time to listen! Some of them are refugees from Syria, Americans who left their life back home for their love of tango and lots of western women who settled in Argentina in the name of love. Since I managed my own schedule, I was able to invest more time in people and building relations. An anthropologist by heart, I love listening to people’s stories and learn the social and cultural contexts. Casual encounters turned into friendships who became our family away from home.

I fell in love with the warmth of the Latino’s culture: one kiss on the right cheek every time you meet people and another one when you leave them – the warm and sincere hugs from friends. An old lady called me amor when I helped her got off from a bus. All these were a bit awkward to me at the first time (coming from a culture that is more reserved and conservative) but at the end, I appreciated the genuine connection.

Apart from learning new things and exploring a new environment, Enda became a mom!

One of the best benefits of being a housewife is that I could travel a lot. Anytime. I love traveling and going to new places. During our time there, my husband and I were able to tick some places in our bucket list: trekking in Macchu Picchu in Peru, climbing the glaciers in Calafate, exploring the northern salt desert of Argentina and exploring the beauty of Patagonia. On our last year, we were blessed with a beautiful baby boy.

At the end of our journey in Argentina, it was difficult to say goodbye. The place has taught me many things, the biggest lesson of which was self-acceptance of who I truly was and not letting anything determine my identity. I realized they are all superficial and temporary. Becoming a housewife was my personal independent choice. Choosing a family more than a career is something that every woman should not be ashamed of.

It became my campaign for women to stop putting label on ourselves. Often, the stereotyping even came from women who were supposed to understand and support this. A lady once asked me why I bothered to take a Masters degree when I would end up in the kitchen as a housewife. It is sad to hear but it is totally untrue! Having the best education is a great qualification for raising a family.

Are you ‘standing at the intersection’ of your life as a woman and are about to make a drastic swift? You are not alone. I’ve been there and I am sharing my tips so we can walk together.

1. Do not be afraid to take a leap! Going to an unknown land and leaving our comfort zone can be scary. Brace yourself and take the risk! We can always learn something from the experience. It is way better than to sit still and not give ourselves a chance to take up the challenge.

2. Close your ears to everything negative. Or even better, use them to motivate you in a positive way. People always have opinions about others, but so little about themselves. Don’t let all the negativity defines who you are and what you want to do.

3. Prepare yourself in advance. My biggest mistake was not preparing myself adequately before moving to Argentina. If I learned Spanish and the culture prior to moving to Buenos Aires, my early days in the city would be much easier. But then it was part of the journey and I learned from what I did not do.

4. Be flexible and ready to adapt. According to a survey, physically getting ourselves out of our comfort zone will widen our horizon and self-confidence. This is very true to me. If I did not move out of my comfort zone, I would never learn new things, a new language, cooking and organising skills, entrepreneurship or even the art of diplomacy.

Living in Argentina has definitely improved my cooking skills & creativity. Since good Asian restaurants were limited in Buenos Aires, I often had to cook my own food from scratch.

Learning new language for me was tough. The first three months were the most difficult as there were not many Argentinians who can habla Ingles (speak English). At first, I could only communicate with the lady cleaner at our apartment using Google translate from my Ipad. We literally had to type every words in order to communicate!

It has been a year that we are back in Jakarta and I love being closer to my family. But I also miss Argentina and the friends we left behind. Two months after we arrived, I went back to work making a career switch from Disaster Management to Grants. The new job is now giving me a lot of windows to learn.

Life is, indeed, a wheel. Our experiences are precious – if we give ourselves the chance to learn and explore.

Now back in Indonesia and again a working woman, Enda is happy to have her family close by. But her journey in Argentina still remains close to her heart.

Enda Balina is back as a humanitarian worker but stronger and prouder as a mom and wife. She lives with her family in Jakarta.

Growing Up at No.195: Embracing my roots as a Rojak Malaysian

By Joanne Tay

There is a stereotype that the Chinese must have their soup daily, master the art of eating rice in a bowl with chopsticks and naturally, speak Mandarin. I was anything but those.

The girl from No. 195. Bubbly Joanne sure knows how to treasure her roots and the rich Malaysian culture along with it.

Give me Sambal Belacan anytime of the day and I’ll gladly have them with anything just like how the Westerners like their cheese. While I master the art of eating rice with chopsticks, I equally excel eating rice on a plate flooded with curry with my bare hands. This way of eating is usually more common amongst the Indians and Malays but as a child, it never crossed my mind as uncommon for a Chinese family. It was just a familiar way of life in my household. This goes to show that a child is not coloured by stereotypes.

Growing up, my father sent me to a public missionary school. Penang, where I grew up, was a former British colony and I was Mandarin illiterate. The vernacular Malaysian education system means Chinese was not taught as a subject in some public schools. I learned the Malay language (my national language) and English, while I spoke a dialect known as Hokkien at home like most Penangites.

The beauty of having Rojak roots

But, Hokkien with my late amah (grandmother) was a little different.

[Hokkien mixed with broken Malay] “Ini kasi lu sambal belacan gua yang buat. Lu bawak balik makan.”

[Hokkien] “Wa ka-ki cho eh sambal. Hoh lu gia tui ki chiak”

Meaning: “Here, this is my homemade sambal belacan for you to bring home and eat.”

Hokkien’s ability to switch, mix and match languages and made them her own never ceased to amaze me as a child. When speaking with the Indian uncle who rented a corner of our pre-war house to operate his little his tuck shop or the Malay couple who sold sheaved coconuts by the side of our house during the morning market, amah would pepper it with broken Malay slangs. Then almost at an instant, she would completely switched to a full-on Hokkien with the Chinese uncle who rented the front of our house for his tailoring business.

The streets of No. 195 saw Joanne’s growing up years – and that also include her dreams and challenges overcome. (Photo-grab from Google)

Claiming that she was a nyonya (Straits-born Chinese who are the descendants of Chinese immigrants in the olden Malay archipelago, now Malaysia and Singapore), she embraced the peranakan way of life – food preferences, language, attire of baju kebaya, sarung and kasut manik (beaded shoes) with her hair dolled up into a bun with decorated pins.

Little did I know then, those formative 18 years of my life growing up with amah would eventually shape a big part of my identity and heritage. Often robust with spices and intertwined with a myriad of cultures, my Taosist family who also adopted Indian gods worship during annual festivities like the Thaipusam, made us such a rojak (a local fruit and vegetable salad dish, which also means “eclectic mix” in colloquial Malay) bunch! I could never quite settle for an identity.

The crammed space at No.195 with cracked walls and crackling wooden flooring was constantly buzzing with people as relatives live together. Situated along one of Penang’s major roads in town, traffic was always a little too loud and the house even shook a little when heavy vehicles passed by. But the aroma of amah’s cooking filled the kitchen (and our stomachs) daily and I always look forward to what’s cooking!

What’s cooking? This delicious rojak is very much a part of the Malaysian culture where food always takes the centerstage. (Photo from The Star Online)

By the time I started school, I had multiracial classmates and was welcomed into their homes. Because of my love for spices and eating with hands, my Malay friends’ families were intrigued by my upbringing. And yet, I was puzzled why can’t they eat at my home?

School had me learn, unlearn and relearn a lot. Sometimes, when your home isn’t as what the school taught it to be, things can be a little confusing. I didn’t understand why race, language or the colour of our skins would be barriers in defining who we are. Because where I grew up, it was multiracial with my neighbours, food and language.

Joanne as a baby in her gangstah-look; one of the few rare photos with her dad while growing up.

Education propels me to search for an identity to call my own. And like all beginnings, I started to question my Malaysian identity and what it means.

“I can’t speak, read or write Chinese (but I’m supposed to be Chinese!). Neither am I Malay (but I eat with hands!). Neither am I Indian (but my family pays respects to the Indian gods!). So how should I call myself? Should I even categorise who I am?”

“Are we so different by our race?”

Malaysian at heart and a global citizen of this world

In the later years of my life, I had the privilege to see the world a little more and worked with international friends. These made me realised that humanity in itself is one global race. We are not so different after all despite where we come from, the language we speak or the stereotypes the society puts on us.

Remembering my late amah and her way of life taught me that despite what are seemingly stark differences, we can live in harmony if we choose to adapt and adopt the cultures that surround us and welcome them as our way of life.

We are who we choose to embrace. I am Malaysian without a doubt because it’s the only home I know. But I am also a global citizen who choose to think beyond the labels of races.

So what if there is a certain perception how a Chinese should eat their rice? Well, I  choose to eat it differently. So what if people say you’re not Chinese enough because you can’t speak Mandarin? I choose to embrace that part about me because as a Malaysian, I can effortlessly string three languages into a sentence!

I hope in your own journey in discovering an identity, you will choose to embrace the cultures that uniquely shape you. Those are the stories that define you. As for me, No.195 was a little chaotic but it was the spices of my roots. And it will always be my truly rojak Malaysian chapter.

What’s a rojak? No other dish embodies the essence of being Malaysian more.

Building her goals one brick at a time, Joanne’s journey is as fascinating as her cultural heritage.

Joanne Tay is proud to hail from the little island of glorious sun and food haven of Penang, Malaysia. She was a humanitarian worker and loves a good conversation, especially with children. Joanne is venturing into the new grounds in the field of science education for her next adventure. She believes FUN is the essence to creativity!

A touching letter from my mother: It’s fading ink got me to where I am now

Lucy graduated from the University of Nairobi in Kenya with a degree in Communications and Political Science with a lot of inspiration from her mother Miriam.

By Lucy Murunga

One of the things I am eternally grateful for is having such a strong female figure in my life. This would be none other than my mother. There are a ton of things I admire about my mother. For one, she brought me into this world, then she took care of me and nurtured me all the while doing things that inspired determination in me.

However the one I can still recall vividly that I have kept it to this date, was this letter she wrote me in 2006 when I was in my second year at the University of Nairobi in Kenya’s premier city. A letter that reflects the selfless and determined sprit of a loving mother – a precious letter I possess until today.

My mother Miriam was born 54 years ago and was formerly a primary school teacher. Teachers weren’t that well-paid but somehow she and my father, a school head teacher, were able to make ends meet pooling their income together. She now works as a girls’ boarding school principal and lives with the rest of our family in western part of Kenya.

In part here goes my mother’s letter to me, “Receive much greetings from home. The rain is too much, the weather is cold and I think causing malaria for people…I received your note, thanks. The children received the books and were grateful. I am really encouraging them to read. Otherwise, receive Kenyan Shillings (Kshs) 4,500 (USD 45) for now. I will send some more money next week let’s say latest 15th May…

This letter made me emotional as we were just about to do exams and there was some remaining balance in my tuition fee that need to be settled. As I waited for mother to send the amount – I was forced to reach out to my father’s elder brother Uncle Ole for Kshs10,000 (USD100) and I was able to sit my exams that year. He might not remember anymore but I will never forget his kindness.

The inspiration glowed into Lucy’s life until she found the humanitarian work she really loves.

My mom’s letter and this particular experience taught me these key lessons:

  • The faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory; I still have the letter with me, a constant reminder of how mother did the best she could to raise university fees
  • The joy of simple things; Nothing like my mother’s simple handwritten letter; the letter makes me have beautiful nostalgia
  • Sacrifice; I read that letter with tears filled in my eyes, I could taste the saltiness as the tears streamed into my mouth because I knew very well, there are lots of things and projects she had to put on hold, so that she could send me the money.
  • The virtue and joy of perseverance; My mother’s letter taught me that even a little of something can bring you reassurance that someone is always trying their best
  • Hanging on to a glimmer of hope is worth it; even from the faintest, there is a prize for the persistent.

The letter always gave me the strength I needed to work hard, if not for me then at least for my mother who saw a brighter future in me and invested all she had, not just money but also her consistent key advice of working hard and being determined. A very religious mother, she prayed things would work out someday, and yes, God answered her prayers!

To cut the long story short, when I completed university, just before my graduation, I was very privileged to get accepted to intern with one of the leading international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kenya. My determination only got started and I worked extremely hard, never letting anyone or anything put me down.

I excelled in listening to other people’s stories, writing and sharing them with a much wider audience. Oh how I loved travelling the country, meeting new people, listening to their stories (some sad, others happy), and I could always relate with a character in my stories, because in one way or another I had been through what they were going through. 

Sharing people’s stories and advocating for better lives for children became Lucy’s lifelong goal.

I have worked there ever since 2008 and daily I continue to mature in my career, spiritual journey and even the social life.

My mother’s determination got me here. Her parting shot was always constant: “Hard work and determination will grant you success”. I strive to inspire determination in those God may put me into contact with in my life’s journey who might find themselves in similar circumstances because of what my mother instilled in me.

I recently was reading Oprah Winfrey’s book: ‘What I Know For Sure’ where she encourages readers to persist: “Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you too will keep encountering challenges. It is a blessing to be able to survive them, to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other-to be in a position to make the climb up life’s mountain, knowing the summit still lies ahead. And every experience is a valuable teacher.” 

I salute you Mother for teaching me what it really means to be determined in life!

This quote reminds me of the circumstances in my family and how mother sacrificed a lot to ensure we had a decent life and a decent education, that’s for sure. However, we did not all achieve the kind of success she hoped and desired for us; my two brothers did not make it to university, they are grown ups now with no employment and college education. Mother is hopeful that one day, they will rise above their circumstances, because everyone can.

That competitive spirit! Lucy juggles her busy schedules from work and running marathons. This Kenyan lady knows how to live the life of a champion!

Lucy Murunga is a Nairobi-based Communications practitioner and currently pursuing her Masters Degree in International Relations from United States International University. She has written numerous blogs highlighting the plight of people in need of world’s care and attention. She loves reading, writing and blogging.

A celebration of full time motherhood: Running the house is rocking fun!

By Sikhonzile Ndlovu

Sikhonzile or Skhoe to family and friends found her bliss taking a break from humanitarian work to being a full-time mom and wife. There’s fun and joy doing it!

3 March 2017 saw me leave the house at 5 am and head to Target stores in Gaithersburg, Maryland to wait in the line for the new Nintendo Switch in sub-zero degree temperatures.

This was such a proud moment in my life because I have never been clearer on what makes me happy and my purpose in life. I was one of two women in the line.

The few men around me asked if I was a gamer. I told them I was buying it for my 15-year old son. One of the guys said ‘Wow! He must really be a good boy.’ I said my children are boss!

It has been a year since I took this giant leap of faith! May not sound so big to someone else but to me it certainly has been life changing. I resigned from my job after nine straight years as a women’s empowerment advocate, packed the family’s bags and got on a plane to start a new life in the so called ‘land of opportunities’ the USA. One thing I was certain about as I got on that plane was that I wanted to dedicate time to my family, rest, and just enjoy life whatever that means. I have not regretted this decision.

I remember telling a friend of mine that I was finally going to be a woman of leisure. She could not hide her shock! She said ‘Skhoe you are so young, you should find something to do’. I am just surprised that our society doesn’t seem to appreciate that one can be something without necessarily having a full-time job. Have we become a people that define people’s worth based on professional engagement? Just asking!

Isn’t it a joy raising future leaders of the world? Who can argue and win with Sikhonzile on this? Yes, it is!

Just the other day a fellow church mate asked me what I do and I proudly said ‘I work for my family. I am a wife and a mother’. I could see the baffled look on her face! I then explained that I support my family and cater for their every need. Then the next question was, ‘so what exactly do you do?’

I used to be of that mindset too in the past. I never understood the great role that mothers play in this modern capitalist world. I thought all they ever do is sit and tweak their fingers the whole day, eat, sleep and let their brains rot! I have always viewed high sounding job titles as a measure of self -actualization.  But my experiences in the past year, have changed my thinking. I feel that most of us mothers don’t realise how much we are contributing to this world by just being there for these future leaders.

When one moves to a new place there are obvious adjustments for the whole family. Imagine your children coming from school to an empty house, in a new city, with no friends or family around. Who do they share their fears, successes and everyday experiences with? With the neighbor who will need ten minutes to just understand what they are saying?

My family will never forget how our son missed the school bus on his first day of school. Initially we got out of the house ahead of schedule, then the driver told us she was going to drive around and come back. Being a mother I then told my son to go back into the house and have his breakfast. When we came out the bus was gone. I had to ‘make a plan’ of course. If I wasn’t there who was going to make the plan?

You still can find use of those rock-killer heels … and get a wow from your children.

A few days ago I drove to three shopping malls in different parts of Maryland just because my son wanted a particular brand of sneakers. When I eventually found them, you should have seen the happy look on his face. So tell me, do I need to find something to do?

And the occasional trips to meet the counselors and teachers to just try and understand the curriculum. And the awards ceremonies and talent shows of course. These are a highlight because I dress up with my rock killer heels. The look on my daughter’s face when I walked into a talent show rehearsal at her school was priceless. She was beaming from ear to ear! She thinks we are friends… (rolling my eyes).

And guess what! I have learnt to braid her hair. When I told one of my sisters, she said ‘since when Skhoe?’ I may sound like a cheap skate, but do you want me to pay $200 for her braids and miss out on a bonding moment? When I say, ‘a daughter is a baby who grows up to be a friend’ I mean it. In the past I was too busy and missed out on opportunities to talk, laugh and just let life be. I am however, often subjected to those stories about her ‘on, off, on, off and on again’ friends.

In her book, ‘Mom and Me and Mom’ Maya Angelou recalls how during a difficult time in her life she called on her mom to fly from San Francisco to Stockholm just to support her. She says, “This is the role of the mother. Not just because she feeds, loves and cuddles a child…but because in an interesting and eerie way, she stands in the gap. She stands between the known and the unknown.” Sounds familiar?

Being head of the Spousal Unit is mastering the job of a one-woman team. It’s a great skill to learn.

Besides being a mother, am also a wife! Just the other day I was telling my husband that I should add ‘Head of the Spousal Unit’ to my name. He asked how many people are in my unit. It doesn’t matter, the important thing is that I am the head!

My job description includes being a ‘wardrobe consultant, psychologist, massage therapist, meal planner, sounding board and my favourite editor in chief’ among many others. I am also a partner when my husband needs to think things through or someone to give him perspective. And yes, I joyfully run to and from the dry cleaners every so often before and after major trips and engagements.

The other night I sat up past midnight because I had to prep my husband for a major US Congress testimony. After editing, I made the poor guy do the speech eight times. Literally! Call me queen of mean but when he came out of those Senate Chambers, he had a spring in his step! Keeps my brain active.

People who have worked in gender circles would ask why someone so committed to women’s empowerment would then leave their job and ‘give up their independence’. But nothing has been more fulfilling than hearing my children sing in the house, cheering them on, looking at their school reports, just sitting together every evening, telling jokes and laughing about everything and nothing.

The former FLOTUS Michelle Obama showed the world that playing that important role of mother and wife does not reduce one’s status in society.

 

Independence as a woman is enjoying the fulfillment in motherhood and in running a happy household. There are many ways to define it but for Sikhonzile, family comes first.

Sikhonzile is a gender, media and communications specialist, mother and wife. She is currently taking a break from full time work.