*Here at Mormon Women: Who We Are, we celebrate both the ordinary and the extraordinary in the lives of LDS women. Today, we feature Part 2 the story of two women who each have experienced serious trial and difficulty in their lives, but have, individually and together, turned outward in a spirit of charity and service to influence the lives of thousands of Heavenly Father’s children for good.
-by Chantal, joined today by Rochelle
Chantal continues her story from Part 1:
My kids were all in school, my babies were gone, my house was cleaned and cleaned and I simply did not know what to do with my time or how to distract myself from numbing loss. But with Cindy’s loving encouragement, and through the healing whisperings of the Lord’s Spirit, I felt some of the anger and murmuring start to lift from my heart.
I decided to become a volunteer for Cindy’s nonprofit in Mozambique; I would help other mothers keep their babies alive. I thought, If such a small thing as this birthing kit can save just one mother the grief that I have experienced of losing a little baby, then I will do it. I learned that, in Africa, I didn’t have to be a doctor to save lives.
I threw the full energy of my being into learning about a whole new world: Africa, nonprofits, HIV/AIDS, orphans, grant writing, board governance, fund-raising, program management and evaluation. It was all such a journey — a new language, a new experience, steep learning and precious associations with some marvelous individuals. In this service I found more truth about how to conquer grief through the merits, mercy, and grace of God. The Lord gently persuaded me that I needed to serve more with my full heart.
As I traveled and served, I recognized the grief in the eyes of women, children, and, most poignantly, in the babies of Africa whom I met. I found tremendous joy and satisfaction in the simple ways we could help. For example, I was thrilled when Ana Micas, a wonderful Mozambican nurse, taught mothers to add three tablespoons of chlorine in their drinking water, thereby reducing diarrhea by 90% – this being the number one cause of death in children under five years old. As I watched women and children survive and gain health, I felt the Lord slowly filling my soul with more life.
Watching these African women learn and grow, I was prompted to continue my own learning and found myself pursuing a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Studies (MNpS) at Arizona State University. During this time my journey became intertwined with another treasured friend, Rochelle.
Rochelle has her own story of the pain of loss and the challenge of overcoming grief:
“I became an orphan at age 11, when my parents died in a tragic car accident. When my brother came bearing the horrible news, the first thing I said was, ‘I am an orphan. Who is going to take care of me?’ My brother broke down and cried.
“Being the youngest of six children, I went to live with my sister, the oldest sibling. Imagine being only 27 years old and inheriting a pre-teen overnight!
“Within two weeks of the loss of our parents, my sister had a discussion with me that would forever change my life. We sat on the couch facing each other, and these were the very poignant words she spoke: ‘Now Rochelle, this terrible thing has happened to us and we can respond in one of two ways: one, we can be bitter and angry, blaming God that such a tragedy has come upon us, or two, we can understand that terrible things sometimes happen and we can put our trust in God, pull together as a family, and make the best of our lives to make our parents proud. I have made my choice and I want you to make yours right here, right now.’
“She can never know the full impact this profound moment made on a grieving, impressionable 11-year-old. Of course, I made the choice to follow her lead and try to make the most of a heartbreaking tragedy. As she cared for me through those years, she encouraged me to avoid self-pity, and to be productive and positive.
“When the opportunity came to work with Chantal in Mozambique, I couldn’t pass up the chance. The program appealed to me not only because it helps orphans and vulnerable children, but because it helps children become self-reliant with whatever family unit they have left. Millions of orphans live in Africa, but so very few are adopted, and living in orphanages is not ideal. I knew from personal experience that living with whatever family unit is left — grandparents, siblings, others — would make such a difference in their lives.
“This opportunity to serve took me back to the questions I had when I became orphaned: How will I eat? Who will pay the bills? How will I live? Even though I hate the word ‘orphan,” I know what being an orphan is like. My sister had helped me, and I have loved having the chance to help these children help themselves.
“Never would I have imagined what was around the corner. My husband and I were living in Japan, and he was serving as the leader [bishop] of our ward congregation. We met an amazing couple from Ethiopia who had actually met, fell in love, married, and joined the Church in Japan. We became dear friends with Woudneh and Betelhem.
“They returned to Ethiopia, and we kept in contact. My son decided for his Boy Scout Eagle Project to help school children in Betelhem’s village. I traveled to Ethiopia with my son to help him complete his project, where we stayed with Betelhem and got to know her family. I told Woudneh I wanted to meet his family, to see where he had grown up.
“Woudneh took us to his village, Dera. Woudneh is just like his wife; he is so compelled to help his people. Knowing that I was involved in a non-profit organization that helped people in Africa, he asked me to help his village, too.”
Chantal shares what happened as a result:
Two years after Rochelle first visited Dera, she convinced me to visit Ethiopia and explore the possibilities of helping the orphans in Dera.
What I saw in Dera was staggering, even with all I had already experienced in Africa. The women, white from 16 months of rainless dust, gathered around us to plead for help. Amazaguy, a village mother, told us how she awakes at 4 am and carries her five-gallon yellow water can as she walks for miles searching for water. When no water is found, she places her can in line at a water point, where she waits up to 15 days for government water trucks to arrive.
No water means no food, no sanitation, and numerous health problems. There is no water to wash newborn babies or to embalm the dead. Children — 200 of them in one location — dropped out of school in order to look for water to help their families. But families are falling apart under the stress of simply trying to survive.
As my heart broke for these people, I turned to Rochelle on that trip and said, “I think we are doing a water project.”
“When Chantal and I first started this project, we said to each other, ‘We don’t know anything about water systems. We don’t know how to do this.’ But people said to us, “We prayed you here.” We knew we needed to help, somehow.
“This project has been nothing short of miraculous. I am amazed how the Lord has brought us all together – our paths crossed on three different continents! We work and have faith and pray and keep working, and we feel God keeps leading us along.
“My involvement in Africa has been very humbling, but also very comforting. It has strengthened my conviction that God has a plan for us, even as life does not always unfold as planned. God loves all His children, no matter where they are. He hears prayers. Sometimes He answers prayers through other people. I am amazed and grateful that He could provide some hope to the people of Dera, beginning with two moms from Gilbert, Arizona.”
Once we met these wonderful people, looked into their eyes, and felt the strength of their spirit, it was impossible to return home unchanged. They needed us — and we needed them. Standing in the dry Ethiopian dust, the Lord added a dimension of perspective to the grief I carried for so many years.
A man filled with the love of God is not content to bless his family alone, but ranges through the whole world anxious to bless the whole human race; to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, dry up the tear of the orphan, whether in this Church, in any other Church, or in no Church at all – wherever he may find them.
– Joseph Smith
Rochelle lost her parents. I lost my daughters. We relied on the Lord and our families to survive. In the course of learning to really give of ourselves, the sweet balm of Gilead, given only by the touch of the Savior, has healed our broken hearts. The bitterness of grief has turned sweet in the joy of helping people find hope for a better life.
Editor’s note: Chantal and Rochelle founded Hope Arising, a non-profit organization focused on empowering families and communities to support and care for children orphaned or made vulnerable by disease, war, natural disaster and extreme poverty. Their goal is to help each child within their reach be healthy, gain education, and achieve economic self-reliance — for a future of hope.
For more First Person essays, see here.