November 17th, 2011
November 17th, 2011
I am an action person. Lots of people are upset about the state of the world but don’t do anything about it. My mother and I were never like that; we are doers. My mother spent her life giving to others, a virtue she passed on to me. When she died suddenly from ovarian cancer, I took my $35,000 inheritance and used it to continue her legacy by starting Mama Hope, now touching thousands of lives in Africa.
I grew up in a culture of giving. My grandmother worked for the NAACP; my mother and I worked in soup kitchens and delivered food to people who were hungry. As the only child of a single working mom, I knew we weren’t wealthy, but we always believed in giving back. Even when I was very young, I was aware that there were people all over the world, equal to me and just as deserving, whose lives were consumed in a struggle for basic needs. Why? What could I do about it? To find out, in college I majored in Global Studies and then went to graduate school overseas in Peace Education.
Then suddenly, in January, 2006, my mother passed away and my world crumbled. She was only 54. My grief was overwhelming. I felt cheated: I had been robbed of my best friend and the sole member of my family. What saved me from drowning in pain was the thought that maybe, somehow, I could continue her legacy. I knew my mother had sponsored an orphan named Bernard in Kenya and had hosted fundraising events at our home to raise money for micro-lending projects in his community. So two months after my mother’s death, I travelled to Kenya to meet this orphan. When I arrived in Kenya, I was met by not just by Bernard, but by his whole community! I learned that the humble micro-lending project my mother had started had changed hundreds of people’s lives for the better, forever!
Flying home, I knew I would use all my inheritance, knowledge, skills and heart to start an organization that continued my mother’s work in Africa. It was the most certain thing I ever felt. I named my new organization, “Mama Hope.” Some of my friends and extended family thought I was crazy to use my small nest egg this way instead of saving it for the future. But I knew this work would heal me, and that I could start something with enormous potential to change lives. Grief is just leftover love -- leftover energy that needs to go somewhere. My love goes to Africa.
Through Mama Hope, we help equip communities in Sub-Saharan Africa who want to bring themselves out of poverty. We raise funds and work with community leaders to address exactly what the communities want—whether food, healthcare, water, or education. We give communities the tools to be self-sufficient. I believe that by having direct conversation with the communities we serve, supporting the sustainable projects they choose, and providing hope, itself, we can create dramatic change together. So far, on a tiny budget Mama Hope has improved the lives of over 76,000 people.
Most of us give at three levels: first we give to ourselves, second to our families, friends and immediate communities, and third to the world outside ourselves. Many people don’t yet give on this third level, but that is my focus. I have a vision of not just a community, city, or country without poverty, but a world without poverty. I believe in this vision. I don’t expect to see that result in my lifetime, but I find satisfaction in giving to the people who will come after me – and to carrying on my mother’s legacy.