giving back

A Purple Door Stands Out Between Despair and Poverty in Kenya

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Empowerment—I often hear people reference the quote, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." But what happens if there is no water or if the sugar runs out?

As westerners, many people travel to developing countries with the notion of "saving" people from their struggles—providing them with the water or the sugar to make lemonade out of their lemons. Nothing is wrong with that, especially if the help we provide makes people's lives a little easier—sweeter. I mean, the tagline for Mom It Forward afterall is "changing the world one mom at a time," so I readily admit that change is on this western woman's mind.

Today, I was reminded of the the three tenets of the Mom It Forward mission: me (empowering women), mom (raising kids with character), and my world (bettering communities), which when put into action truly can change the world one mom at a time—even if it's just our own lives. Life gives each of us our own lemons. At times, we need to be strengthened so we in turn can strengthen others. And today, I was reminded that we should never underestimate the people or places where that strength will come from.

I visited a school in a slum of Nairobi. Living conditions were, by western standards, horrible—open sewage, garbage, dirt roads with kids walking barefoot, and school-aged children sitly idly instead of in class. But, that is on first view. If we shift the lens a little, we didn't have to look far to find bold red tomatoes being sold by beautiful women in brightly colored clothes, purple painted doors where families bond, and young boys laughing and playing games while building friendships.

The school I visited was created, much like my children's own charter school, by a group of concerned and caring parents in the community, who wanted to provide a better life for their kids. With the help of a local church, US AID, and other local partners, they raised funds and started the school. Parents donated materials and labor to build the school, including the desks and tables in the tiny classrooms. All around the facility were corrugated metal and noise. But in the fenced in school yard and tiny compound was a safe haven where young minds are being fed and hope thrived.

They are bonding together as a community to give their children hope for a brighter future. Teachers volunteer their time. Parents are deeply involved, recognizing that everything depends on their dedication. And children do exactly what the teacher's ask, so grateful to even have the opportunity to attend.

When I asked a cute African mom what her greatest challenge was, I predicted her answer would be "Keeping my children alive." What I heard instead was the same thing I'm concerned with: "Raising good children."

Women around the world all have challenges. But ultimately, at our core, we have very similar concerns and needs. And from what I've seen the past few days, positive outlooks for a bright future. In the midst of the slums, I saw bright purple doors. Feeling like you need to "save" someone, whether they are in your own family, a friend, a neighbor, or all the way across the world, can seem daunting. But uplifting, encouraging, supporting, being a resource to others, and remembering at our core we our so similar and have so much to learn from each other (regardless of our differences), is empowering!

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.

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