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Fond memories of Ester and Mama Ester

There is so much going on right now: COVID-19 continues to take the lives of people we love, and we grieve. And we also grieve for the injustices caused by systemic racism.

Yet there is also a spirit at work that seeks to transform our grief into healing and hope. How does the human spirit remain hopeful when suffering seems to have no end? Hope requires a certain degree of resilience. I think the words of the late former president of India A. P. J. Abdul Kalam are helpful.

When we tackle obstacles,
we find hidden reserves of courage and resilience

we did not know we had.

The clients at Uzima Centre have already lived through the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and they have a lot to teach us about resilience.

Some of you may remember the story of Ester, one of our HIV-positive children. In 2016, while helping her mother cook, her skirt caught on fire. She suffered severe burns on both legs. Ester’s mother, “Mama Ester,” is also HIV-positive, spent six weeks with her in the hospital, hardly leaving her side. Just when it seemed that Ester had turned a corner and would recover, an infection set in, and it was more than she could fight.

Her mother returned to the village to bury her daughter, and to find that her former employer had replaced her and she no longer had a job. I was so worried for her. Several months later I attended a support group meeting in her village, and there was Mama Ester. She had found a small plot of land to farm and was growing corn. Living with HIV requires a tremendous amount of resilience. Mama Ester knew that she needed to pick up the pieces of her life and start anew, and that’s exactly what she did.

Joanne Miya with Laurencia during a support group meeting at Uzima Centre. Photo by Jerry Fleury.

One of my favorite clients at Uzima Centre is Laurencia. Even during the most trying of times, she remains positive. At 70 years old, she has been part of our program for people living with HIV for the past 15 years. She has raised seven children and has had her share of ups and downs. Three of her grandchildren are in our program for orphans and vulnerable children. Laurencia was determined to enroll them in a Montessori primary school. They were offered a partial scholarship, but the remaining fees were still beyond her means. Through temp work helping to cook the school lunches, she paid the remaining fees.

Laurencia is a woman who firmly believes that God can make a way where there is no way. Where does her resilience come from? I think it’s rooted in her very strong sense of gratitude. She starts from a place of gratitude for what is. Because Laurencia is clinically underweight, we provide food assistance in the form of 3 kilos of beans and 2 kilos of high protein flour each month, and although this is hardly enough, she never fails to thank us profusely. Gratitude enables a positive mindset from which resilience can take hold.

It seems that resilience can only be acquired through struggle. With each obstacle overcome, resilience grows stronger. Some of our clients have lengthy “resilience résumés.”

Whenever I am feeling discouraged, I stop and remember Mama Ester, Laurencia and the many others whom I consider “masters of resilience.” They give me the courage and strength to carry on. Regardless of the challenges you might be facing, know that the struggle can be won. Maybe not in a day or a week or even a decade, but if you remain resilient, “all things are possible with God” (Mt 19:26). We must each start by asking God what is required of us individually, then seek out others who share our vision.

 

Joanne Miya Joanne Miya
Joanne Miya joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 1983. She is the director of the Uzima Centre in Mwanza, Tanzania, whose mission is to provide hope, healthcare and education to adults and children living with HIV.