Dignity of the Marginalized

After being misguided into a corrupt international adoption for 3 years, the Bridgers family developed a heart for vulnerable families and ethical orphan care. Find out how Wellon and Stephen came to Mwana Villages and found their son and daughter through holistic and above reproach actions. 

 
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For the last six years, August has been a big month for us. In August of 2011, we joined a pilot program for the DRC. Two years later to the day, in August 2013, we were matched with beautiful twin boys, who by everything we were told of their social history (mother prostitute; unknown birthfather; no known siblings), were in true need of an adoptive family. One year later, on the exact same day and after an adoption judgment and very final steps before bringing these boys home, we were told something that rocked our world. “The boys have been kidnapped by a man claiming to be their father.” WHAT!?? Then we found out their parents are married. And they have teenage sisters. And their family wants them. And their mother has worked at the orphanage the whole year they were there. And…they’ve been back with their family for three months already.

We were completely shocked. Everything we had been told was untrue. The day we had worked tirelessly towards for now three years was beginning to crumble underneath us. But…was it really about us after all? 

“This is their family” was the phrase my husband and I kept repeating to each other. How could we possibly be a part of dividing this family? As we stepped away from that process, fully supportive of this newly reunited family, this shocking experience gave way to a deluge of questions and launched us into a new phase of research. How often does this kind of thing happen? Who are the players in this kind of dark side of adoption? What kind of coercion leads to a mother’s ‘decision’ to give her children up for adoption? Is this typical throughout third-world countries? 

We became convicted that as much as we wanted to complete our family through adoption, we couldn’t turn a blind eye to all that we had learned. Family reunification and support for vulnerable women, orphan prevention, became paramount and we sought to find an organization that was involved in the orphan crisis in the right way: a way that doesn’t divide families but preserves them, in a way that doesn’t insult women by taking their children, but upholds them with dignity and respect. 

 

We stumbled upon this little grassroots ministry called Mwana Villages, and we liked what we saw. But skepticism ran deep, and as we got to know the founders and this young organization, we tuned our eyes and ears to how decisions were made. Were they the kind of people that would forsake lucrative opportunities (i.e. the international adoption world) for the very unglamorous and difficult path of reunification? Time and time again, as the founders quickly became dear friends, we saw sound, ethical, difficult decisions that upheld the dignity of the marginalized and that honored God and his scriptural commands. After a final confirmation trip to Congo to see it with our own eyes, we knew we wanted to be a part of this organization.

Fast forward to the following August, and lo and behold, we were making arrangements with the folks from The Archibald Project to travel together to bring home our two children from Mwana, Leila and Daniel. I have had the amazing privilege since to become the US Director of Mwana Villages, now a growing nonprofit in the US as well as Canada, Congo (and soon France!). I’m about to embark on my fourth trip to Congo this upcoming September, and could not be more touched to have had what once was a heartbreaking story be the impetus for a lifelong ministry to the amazing, beautiful children and families of Congo.

Everyone has a story to tell. And anyone can be an advocate. A champion. A networker. A believer that hope for the marginalized is possible. And that’s what I invite you to be as part of the Mwana Family.

-Wellon, Adoptive Mom and U.S. Director of Mwana Villages

My Time With an Ethical Child's Home

Having lived and worked in many countries + cultures around the world, we have found that finding ethical and trustworthy organizations can be a hard task. Today, we bring you one expat, turned Mwana Sponsor, to share a firsthand view of supporting an ethical organization! 

 
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"Westerners are so bombarded by people seeking money or other kinds of financial or material assistance, they begin to believe that all needy Africans are out and about aggressively asking for help. This is far from being true. In many African cultures, the most needy people are the most hesitant to ask for help. In contrast, more aggressive, blatant requests are typically indications that the petitioner is manipulative, professional, or at least more practiced. Whether needy people are restrained or bold about asking for help seems to depend a great deal on the person’s culture, religion, individual scruples and values, and, of course, on his self-definition of “needy.” "

― David E. MaranzAfrican Friends and Money Matters, Second Edition: Observations from Africa

Having lived and worked in East Africa for a few years in my mid-20s, I still bear the marks of joy mixed with heartbreak from my time there. Uganda and its beautiful people captivated my heart with its rhythm, magnetizing potential and manifesting vulnerability. But my naivety, youth and western understanding of partnership took major hits in the following years as the ugly side of development work, ministry and exchange of money in a impoverished country was laid bare. Our organization built a large children's home from the ground up, drilled wells, established a widows community organization (now the thriving Akola Project) and met many other "on the ground" needs. Little else aside from the Akola Project remains from our time and efforts during those years. We set out with a strong belief that true and fair partnership with local community leaders was not only possible but necessary to build an organization of western and African cohesion. However, our partners were more the aggressive and loud variety as referenced by David E. Maranz above, and money mixed with cultural differences and theft lead to heaps of heartache.

I build that picture of my personal past to introduce Mwana, an organization that has rebuilt my hope and trust that true partnership between African organizations and the West can and does exist. I was hesitant to join a small team to the Republic of Congo this past spring due to my cynicism and lingering scars of disappointment. Children’s homes specifically give me pause because this is where we saw a majority of the corruption surrounding our work. However, as I drew closer to Mwana and its unique 3-pronged leadership team, I was so encouraged and excited to learn about and witness their work on the ground in Congo. 

 

The 10 days we spent in Congo taught me much about Mwana as an organization and Congo as a country with a unique set of challenges. In Congo, there is plenty of attention offshore due to the profitable oil industry but there is little attention where is should be, on the impoverished and vulnerable. The lack of NGO and non-profit presence in Congo was striking when compared to other countries like Uganda. I think one of the main reasons for this is simply that Congo is not as fertile of ground to non-profits as other areas in Africa. The political climate, high cost of living and operations mixed with language barriers (Republic of Congo is primarily French speaking) creates a climate that is not necessarily easy for non-profits, specifically from the United States. There is an absence in Congo, and Mwana is standing bravely in that gap and serving beautiful families and children of incredible need. 

Mwana is a refuge that seeks to first and foremost nurture the family. This is a unique trait and true aim that sets it apart from other children’s homes I have witnessed. Women in Congo, like most women in Africa, are often faced with the overwhelming task of caring for children without skills or education to provide. Upon entering Mwana's walls, it is very clear that Mwana is more than an orphanage; it is a home, a community and a beacon for families and children in distress. Adoption is seen as the last opportunity for children to leave Mwana and enter a family. This culture of preservation is so important and commendable. Mwana is not looking to grow their numbers and boast how many childen it cares for - they celebrate the reunification of children with their families and encourage the family unit in Congo. Mwana's chief aim is not a construction project, it is to care for each child and woman within its walls with dignity and love of the highest quality care possibly. They seek to provide a loving and healthy temporary home for the children within its walls. This attitude of service and humility is not only admirable but incredibly rare. The partnership between the Congolese and Western staff is established and marked with checks for all to be held accountable. Finding true partnership between two cultures is a very difficult task and Mwana does it incredibly well. I am a proud supporter of Mwana and look forward to supporting their just and honest cause for many years to come. 

-Ashley, Mwana Sponsor

Sponsorship + Advocacy

Becoming a Sponsor with Mwana Villages means becoming a part of the family! You become a cheerleader, an advocate and a source of encouragement!

 

What’s your passion? Orphan care? Education? Empowering women? Social justice? Economic improvement for the poor? Homelessness? Nutrition? Advocacy? Could you possibly imagine an organization that meaningfully engages with all of these issues while providing transformation? 

Mwana Villages is committed to addressing the orphan crisis in a holistic manner, serving the Littles, Bigs and Mamas to provide transformative hope and a future. And serving orphaned children and vulnerable families means that we necessarily engage in all of these issues in order to provide a stable, hopeful future. 

That’s exactly how our sponsorship program was designed: providing folks like you, representing a huge array of gifts, passions and interests, with a way to meaningfully engage with the Littles, Bigs or Mamas who are part of the Mwana Family. Our sponsorship program allows you to choose the area of focus that resonates with you the most: you can sponsor a Little, Big or Mama in one (or more!) of five ways, each $30/month.

Nest: shelter in or support via the Mwana Refuge
Nurture: life-giving nutrition
Heal: medical care and treatment
Empower: educational opportunities
Protect: protection from trafficking

But the sponsorship program is about so much more than connecting folks like you to folks like Henriette, Mavie, David, or Jarel. It’s also about advocacy. The truth is, we all need an advocate--someone who cheers us on in our dark times, who believes for us when we have a hard time believing, who celebrates our successes, who prays for us. This is the beauty of the sponsorship program, that each of our children and families gain an advocate. 

Could you become a part of Mwana’s family by sponsoring their holistic efforts?!?

You can learn more about sponsorship with Mwana here!

Beauty. Resilience. Poverty. Marginalization.

How often have you thought that 'orphan care' meant 'adoption'... or that adoption was the answer to the orphan crisis??? Don't feel shame, we used to believe this, too.  Read below about how one organization in the Republic of the Congo is approaching orphan care in a Holistic and ethical way!

 

Beauty. Resilience. Strength. Vibrancy. These words are some of the best descriptors of the Congolese people. Yet these words also ring true: Poverty. Marginalization. Generations of orphans. 

The vulnerable children, women and families in Congo are among some of the most marginalized in their communities. The title of “orphan,” “disabled” or “widow” is a debilitating sentence that cycles through generation after generation. But Mwana Villages is changing that reality.

Mwana Villages seeks to provide transformative hope and future to children AND THEIR FAMILIES in Congo and beyond. It’s those important three words, “and their families” that makes Mwana such a distinctive organization. In the world of orphan care, the children are most often the focus and extent of the organization’s work. Yet caring for the orphaned child often neglects the very reasons a child is orphaned in the first place. So we must address the vulnerable family unit, the mamas, and seek to preserve and reunify the family whenever possible.

 

This is why Mwana was started: a Congolese man and his Canadian wife had a vision to provide hope to the hopeless; to transform what was broken into a beautiful future. Setting out by working with one family at a time, they soon became aware of the need to provide a refuge for children where they could receive loving, safe care until they could be reunified with their families. In some cases where reunification was not a possibility, they would become part of a new forever family through adoption. 

Today, Mwana Villages serves the Littles (children aged 5 and younger), the Bigs (5 years through teenage years) and the Mamas (vulnerable women/mothers), having ministered to nearly 60 babies and young children in the Mwana Home, and to over 50 mamas and bigs throughout the community. Each story has its own beauty and strain, triumphs and struggles. And that’s what makes us a family. Join us the next two weeks as you learn a little more about what it’s like to be part of the Mwana Family…

I want to be a Pilot

Have you ever wanted to get involved with vulnerable children and help them succeed? With your help, Ali can pull his family out of poverty! Read his story below!

 
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My name is Ali Suleiman and my dream is to become a pilot. I would like to fly up in the air. 

I am a boy who was born on the 3rd of March in 2002 and am 14 years old now. I was born in a rural area of Kenya and moved to the Kibera slum when I was 7. I live with my aunt because my parents are unable to bring me up. My mother got mentally ill for many years and my father left so my 2 sisters, brother and myself came to Kibera to live.

Housing in Kibera is very difficult. I received my sponsorship from Penda Project in January of this year when I started high school because my family does not have much money. My family also faces many difficulties because my aunt is old and unable to provide enough basic needs. Sometimes we have food shortages but I work hard to make sure there is enough food. You see, my cousin died of hunger in northern Kenya, which made us all so sad. 

In high school, we have three meals a day but if I was not in school I would often go hungry. There is never enough food at home. We also have a bed, mattress and safe place to sleep at school. Home is very crowded because my aunt also has her own children. 

It makes my aunt happy to see me in school and to not a burden to her. It makes me happy to see my aunt smiling. I believe that my God has helped me in each and every way and I am so thankful. 

-Ali Suleiman, a Kibera Penda Project high school student

To sponsor a child in Kibera, please click here!

The Cycle of Poverty Ends
with Me

One man's story of living in Africa's largest urban slum, succeeding in school with Kibera Penda Project and the hope of ending his family's cycle of poverty!

 
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Kibera Penda Project exists to stop the cycle of poverty through education in Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. 

Kibera is one of the largest slums in Africa. Located just outside downtown Nairobi, Kibera has a population of close to 1 million people in less than a square mile. 

Life in Kibera is hard. Each mud hut or tin roof shack houses an entire family in about a 10 by 10 foot space. Basic life necessities do not exist in Kibera. Clean water, consistent food on the table, plumbing, and electricity are not a way of life in Kibera. Because of this, disease and sickness are a constant struggle. 

Life expectancy in the slum is 30 years old. Most children in the slum either have one or no parent. My father passed away when I was 6 years old. After that my mother began selling vegetables within the slum to support her 5 children. 

At age 7, I began to sell scrap metal in the slum to help support my family. Elementary school is not too expensive in Kibera, but when the average family lives on 1 dollar per day, paying any amount for adequate schooling can be tough. The majority of kids in Kibera finish their education after 8th grade. High school fees are raised high after 8th grade and most families cannot afford to send their kids to high school. Knowing that high school may not be an option due to scarce resources, most students put very little effort into their education. Because of this lack of hope, by the age of 13 students are looking to other options to support themselves. 

Gang activity, drug dealing, theft, and prostitution are all common amongst young teens in Kibera. Kibera is full of desperate people and sometimes these people resort to desperate measures to survive, including my best friend who was shot and killed at age 13 for stealing. 

Most kids in the slum drop out of school in 8th grade and within a few years they have children of their own, who then follow this never-ending routine. The cycle of poverty continues generation after generation in Kibera with no hope or options to stop it. My mother always told me that with hard work, I would be the one who saves our family from this poverty cycle. This has been my motivation and all I needed was a reason to hope that life could be different for my family. In 2008, sitting in my 7th grade classroom, I heard about the Kibera Penda Project and their desire to see the cycle of poverty end in Kibera through education. I was told if I focused on my studies and made the needed test score, Penda Project would offer me a scholarship to high school. 

I finished 8th grade with one of the highest test scores in all of Kibera. My high school scholarship took me to a boarding school outside of Nairobi. Boarding schools are great for Kibera kids because we get a comfortable roof over our head, 3 meals a day, electricity to help us focus on our studies, and most importantly we are separated from the dangers and temptations of slum life. 

In Kibera, favorable living conditions and motivation for the future is all most kids need to succeed. Unfortunately, most do not get the same chance that I have been given. I graduated high school as the valedictorian of my class. Can you believe it, a kid from Kibera: the top student at one of the top boarding schools in all of Kenya!!! Most importantly, I was the first person in my entire family to graduate high school. Kenya has a very high unemployment rate. There are just not enough jobs for the large population. Because of this, a high school diploma is not enough to secure a good job. The hope Penda Project has given me has allowed for me to attend a four year university here in Kenya. I am on my way to making my mother’s and my dream come true.

My name is Eddy Mwangi, and the cycle of poverty for my family ends with me.

Join the life changing work of Kibera Penda Project here