This originally is a letter that I sent out to my friends and family but I have been urged to share it on the blog as well.
As I write to you I am sitting on the porch of my hotel in Kisumu. This is the same hotel that in April of 2006, I shared a dinner with Bernard and talked about his dreams for the future. So much has changed since then. First, Bernard is no longer a boy but a man whose dreams are now within his grasp. Second, this is now my fourth time in Kenya and instead of it just being 3 months after my mother passed away it has been years. And it is only now that I am truly starting to understand how I ended up here in the first place.
I am here in Kisumu. Where it all began. Where 3 months after my mother died I came here to meet Bernard, the orphan that she sponsored. Not really knowing why but just following my instinct that when I got here things would fall into place. And they did to a certain extent. I met Bernard, learned about the project that my mother funded at OLPS-Neema that helped hundreds of women and out of this experience sparked the inspiration for Mama Hope. But what I have learned now is that this really is just the surface story. There is actually so much more.
A couple days ago, while driving with Bernard and Anastasia, the founder of OLPS-Neema, I asked her to tell me a little bit more about how my mother contacted her. She said one day in 2003 she just got a call from my mother and in true Stephanie Moore fashion, she just launched into her pitch. “Hi, I am Stephanie Moore. I am Bernard Olando’s sponsor. I want to help the young women in your community who are losing their parents to AIDS to become self sufficient? I saw a special about this on TV about how these women end up needing to take up prostitution to support their siblings and I want to help prevent this. You see I have a daughter and I hope that if anything happened to me she would be able to be self sufficient…and so on…and so on…..etc.” Once Anastasia could get a word in she told my mother that it was her dream “to start a program to teach these women how to run their own businesses.” Then she told my mom how much she needed to raise to start it. She said that my mother answered confidently, “Give me two weeks!” And so began a wonderful relationship where my mother would call Anastasia, ask her what she needed, then raise the money from her friends and send the funds to Kenya to help these young women.
Time went on and at the end of 2005 Anastasia got a very different call, “Anastasia, I have some bad news. I am very sick and I don’t think I will be around much longer. But I have a daughter and I promise that she will not abandon you and Bernard.” This was the very last time they spoke.
Anastasia told me that she had a beautiful picture of my mother who she said looked like a very young woman and so she thought for sure that the daughter must still be a young girl. She said that after that call she just prayed for the girl; that her whole community prayed that she would be alright. She told me that she wished to bring that girl into her home and care for her.
So four months later when I called her she thought it was a miracle. And a few weeks later when I showed up at her door in Kenya to meet Bernard she was so shocked to see a young woman who looked so similar to her picture of Stephanie Moore. She told me, “you know when you arrived and you were crying, and my whole staff was crying too. It was tears of joy because we knew that you had made it home.”
I want to point out that up until now I KNEW NONE OF THIS. My mother never told me of her promise to Anastasia. I didn’t go to Kenya to fulfill some destiny. I just saw it as an opportunity to meet Bernard and escape from my life in California and everything that reminded me of my terrible loss. Little did I know that what I was escaping to would eventually be the thing that healed my grief.
I remember now how I felt when I showed up; totally defeated and hopeless. The day before I met Anastasia and Bernard for the first time I was sitting on the porch of this very same hotel by myself. Cursing the universe. Asking why the hell I was in Kenya? How could my mother’s death ever have any meaning? How was I ever really to have faith again? I did not know that it would be renewed the very next day by meeting the people that my mother helped and inspiring me to create something so special in her absence.
So today, I am meeting with Anastasia to launch a garden in her community to honor another mother, named Rita Rose. Through Mama Hope a young girl named Mimi Rose contacted me who also lost her young beautiful mother to cancer and decided to fundraise in her memory. The Rita Rose Garden is going to help 100 women, (the very same women my mother helped, who are no longer girls but now mother’s themselves) have a sustainable source of nutrition for their children.
And in two weeks Bernard begins Medical Training College. We were so excited when he got the call with us on Saturday and learned that he was the only student accepted from his high school and that he also got a $1,000 scholarship. I know my mother is beaming with pride!
I have no idea why I woke up this morning to write this to you. I think I just wanted to share that the universe works in strange ways. People might leave us but it seems that love is something that can connect us beyond the boundaries of death in the most miraculous ways and that sometimes when you think you are completely lost you are just on another path home.