What does giving back look like for Umoja graduates?
Esther Odhaimbo’s infectious smile belies the hardship she has endured. She is an orphan and has been part of the Umoja family since 2008, when she was a student at Bar Union Primary School. Like many of her fellow students, Esther was able to stay in school because of the Umoja food security program and additional support. Esther attended Mawego Girls Secondary School, becoming a leader among her peers; she is currently enrolled at South Eastern Kenya University.
Esther regularly shares with her Umoja sisters and brothers the difference Umoja has made in her life. As a graduate of the project, she now participates in events like distribution day of uniforms and blankets.
When speaking to current Umoja students, Esther tells them to be strong, brave, and sure of themselves and their gifts. During her years in boarding school, Esther attended the GET UP Senior retreats— weekends when girls attending boarding school could come together to learn about women’s health, rights, and strategies for coping with the challenges in their lives. Now, Esther shares her experience with younger girls every chance she gets.
“Umoja was a mother and a father to me when I had none, teaching me and giving me support as I grew.”
As a high school student (secondary school), Esther shared what Umoja means to her:
Dear Umoja Project,
Once I was lost and thought I could not make it. I was down and thought I could not rise up. I was stuck and I thought I could not be freed. I was heavily loaded, but could not imagine at being freed. I lived in darkness and I did not think of living in brightness. I lived in sorrow and fear. I did not even want to associate with my fellow friends because I thought I was nothing before them.
Good Lord! You gave me a father and a mother too! A sister and a brother and that was Umoja Project! Umoja, you have me education which has graduated me from darkness to brightness.
Umoja, you have given me a mother who is GET UP (Girls Empowerment Team of Umoja Project). I am now better than a person who has a mother because not all mothers share what they have experienced with their daughters.
Do you remember where you found me? When my eyes were ever full of tears? When the only thing in my mind was that I am suffering because I am an orphan?
You have taught me to be strong. You have filled the gap in my mind of being parentless. You have fed me just as birds feed their young ones! This is through your lunch program. You have also ensured that I stay at peace by taking me to a boarding school. You have made me to feel a sense of belonging between people by instituting GET UP programs.
Thank you Umoja for getting me up when I was down, for clothing me when I was naked. For giving me water when I was thirsty. For giving me hope when I had lost hope.
Father God, I pray that it may continue so that others can also be helped.