All over the world, there are people who have no voice. Children drowning in poverty, women stripped of dignity, men pushed down where there are no safety nets. In dark corners of the world, they subsist day-to-day. Perhaps one of the greatest symptoms of the voiceless is that they lose the capacity to dream.
I know a man who was abandoned in a third-world urban slum at age 5 years-old. If you walk through a slum in Nairobi, you will see the “glue boys”: young children and teenagers cloaked in drab, ragged clothes. Like ghosts they slip around corners. No one wants to hear their stories. They subsist day-to-day on fumes of glue. My friend says glue allowed him to escape both the physical pain of hunger and the emotional pain of abandonment. In the haze of glue-euphoria, there is blessed oblivion, but there are no dreams. The Mother Teresa sisters rescued my friend, and he grew into a man not only of dreams, but of influence.
All around the world, I’ve met people who have no voice, or whose voice is heard by few.
- A women who fled as a teenager to a convent during the Rwandan genocide. The Missionaries of Charity (the order founded by Mother Teresa) smuggled her out of the country to safety in Kenya.
- A Missionary of Charity in Burundi who took a bullet from invading thugs in order to warn a compound of orphans.
- A pastor in Vietnam who lives under the constant threat of oppression by his government and yet perseveres to bring eternal hope to his community.
- A youth worker in Haiti whose own home cracked in the 2010 earthquake; yet even as he struggled to care for his own family in the aftermath, he provided sanctuary for over 30 kids.
- A woman and her husband who deliberately moved into one of the poorest slums of the world in order to teach skills to some of the choice-less ones who live there.
- Another pastor and his wife who have tenaciously loved people in Mathare Valley, a Nairobi slum, for three decades, even rescuing 24 orphans and giving them a home and a family.
- A grandmother who fled post-election violence in a Nairobi slum only to end up living in a tent provided by world relief organizations, who yet remained determined to give her grandchildren a better future. I met her kindred spirit in Vietnam in a grandmother who needed her grandson for daily tasks, but longed even more for him to access family and education.
- A mother in Vietnam who works the fields under a relentless sun, and risks government persecution in order for her daughter to receive an education.
- A young woman in a matriarchal society in Vietnam, just 21-years-old and left by her mother’s death to fight for the survival of a large family of younger siblings and her own children .
- People in Nepal who overtly proclaim their hope in Christ so that others can also hope, under constant threat of government persecution.
- A doctor in Vietnam who gave up a potentially lucrative career in the medical field to organize free medical clinics to impoverished areas and to rescue orphans and bring them into families.
- Missionaries of Charity who willingly moved into the desert of Sudan to bring hope to severely oppressed and starving people.
In these people I’ve witnessed the depths and heights of the human experience. I’ve stepped into living conditions that break my heart, and I’ve also seen the resilience and unconquerable beauty of the human spirit.
I’ve seen the steely grit of people determined to not allow their own experience of voicelessness to entrap their children and grandchildren, and their compassion to fight for other voices in their communities.
I want to tell their stories. I long to speak up for the voiceless. I yearn to empower them to dream. The echo of their lives constantly threads through my paintings, but I find photography to be the clearest, most effective way to communicate when I am given the incredible privilege of actually treading the same ground with them.
Last year, I joyfully returned to Kenya after a four-year hiatus. I spent time with children whose voices were once buried in the slums of Mathare Valley, but who now sing and speak confidently at Sanctuary of Hope.
I visited artisans in the slums who are still fighting to be heard.
In May/June 2017, I’ll be co-leading a Hope’s Promise Connection Team of twenty-five Americans to Kenya. As we are there, I want to do everything I can to make sure the beautiful voices of the Sanctuary of Hope kids and caregivers continue to be heard. After the team leaves, I’m planning to stay a few extra days in the capacity of “storyteller” for Pamba Toto. I’ll be visiting artisan groups in the slums to gather raw materials to speak for them in photos and stories.
Yesterday, I received the most amazing news. When I first started blogging, I “met” Otto van Munchow, a fellow blogger. He is a gifted photographer based out of Norway, and travels all over the world to give people a voice through his images. Check out his inspiring blog here: In Flow. Recently Otto announced a drawing to win free admission to his online workshop called “Finding Your Photographic Voice”. For years, I’ve longed to take the course. I entered, and by the grace of God, learned yesterday that he selected me! The course will overlap my time in Kenya.
I thank God for this opportunity to become better equipped, because there are myriad stunning stories to tell of people who have no voice. They deserve to be heard.