Her dimples run deep, like furrows in brown soil, and her eyes turn up at the ends when she’s truly happy.
I’ve known her for eight years, since Lulu’s birth. She’s my Amina.
Her name means “Honest and Faithful” in Arabic, and that’s what she is, this mother of many who has spent most of the past decade sleeping on the hard floor of Remnants Church in the slum of Katwe, Uganda. Her children curled up on a wooden bench or a plastic chair, beside her.
She was kicked out of her house for turning to Jesus, and over time, her children followed her. She’s a simple woman who doesn’t know English, but she’s learned enough words to tell me what her smile already has. She says it with a bit of a lisp and a shy tilt of her head: “Shank you, Mama Emily.”
But I wish we’d done more, sooner.
Helping takes wisdom. And wisdom takes time. This learning keeps us humble, like the long road to Golgotha.
In the beginning, Amina wanted to grow a garden. So we gave her seeds, and gave her lessons and she grew beans and maize as high as her children’s heads.
But she still couldn’t afford a house, so we helped her with that, and we trained her in making jewelry, but she struggled to sell it, and still, no sustainability.
When we relocated to the villages, she moved for a while to the dorms in Jinja, to help care for the mamas and their babies while her children attended the School of Hope. Her oldest son Yasin remains there to this day as groundskeeper.
But eventually Amina returned to the church. To sleeping on the floor. With no seeds, no jewelry, and no home.
When I was young, I wore a T-shirt from The Body Shop which said, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.”
It’s one thing to wear it. It’s another to live it.
Sustainability is a nice word, but how to do it? How to teach Amina to fish when she doesn’t even own a pole?
Poverty is not just a condition. It’s a mindset, and it wasn’t just about changing Amina’s surroundings. It was about changing her perspective.
It starts within.
She’s a colleague of my friend Steve, who is our new Financial Manager for The Lulu Tree. Steve hails from Burundi, was raised in the States, and now lives as a social worker and entrepreneur in India. He couldn’t say enough good about Rosemary, who loves the Lord, owns her own business making tea from rosemary leaves, and also teaches financial literacy and micro-finance skills to the underprivileged.
This month, Rosemary officially joined our team in Uganda as Director of Finance and Resource Management, but she started working for us back in January with the mamas from the slums. And she started with Amina.
At first, it was like trying to put a door handle on a wall. Amina didn’t want to work. She wanted to stay on the church floor, and we all nearly gave up, because there are many others needing help who in fact want to work.
But then we prayed. Oh, how God loves these women! And how we saw Him move in Amina’s heart, as Rosemary talked to her about her children, about providing for them, about the need to make a future for them.
And slowly the gears began to shift and Amina got a dream – of selling charcoal. Her son, Enock, and her daughter, Pearl, also got behind it – and they opened a storefront, while sleeping in the back, and during the day they sell charcoal, beans, rice, and other wholesale products. Meanwhile, Rosemary and her team gave them microfinance training and they learned how to budget and save.
When I traveled to Uganda in March with my friends Steve and Erica, I hardly recognized Amina in her apron. Her dimples were so deep and her eyes upturned as she hugged us and Rosemary and said her shy, “Shank you.”
So thank you, friends – not just for helping Amina get a house or for sending her kids back to school, but for not giving up on her: because now, her mindset is finally changing. She understands that she can, eventually, do it on her own – if she works hard, and doesn’t give up.
Amina has her fishing pole now. And the waters are teeming with hope.