Students from developing countries, homeless students, orphans, students under the care of their elderly grandparents...students conditioned to feeling ashamed...often keep their feelings to themselves, emotions that over time can become whirlpools of confusion, rage, resentment, and even self-hate. Here is their place to unload the turmoil inside their hearts and find harmony through acceptance and understanding.

I'm Sara Goff, Founding Director of Lift the Lid, Inc., a charity that sponsors schools in the developing world and encourages writing and self-expression.

This is my blog for the students of Lift the Lid. For every donation, a student's poem or personal essay is published here and on Lift the Lid's website, as well as shared with the donor. I believe you'll find that many of the topics raised by the students can apply to children everywhere. They're about growing up in today's world. They're personal, and they come from the heart.

How Do You Measure Friendship?

May 13th, 2017|

How do you measure friendship? Without sounding selfish and contrived, I think we largely value our friendships by what we get out of them. Emotional support. Mental and cultural stimulation. Work and social connections. Companionship. Laughs . . .

But here’s another way of measuring friendship: by what we give. And this just might be our spiritual gain. Giving to others boosts confidence and instills a sense of purpose. So, in essence, even when we give, we get.

Roseline from Mogonjet Secondary School in Kericho, Kenya comes from a family of 15 children, and even though she scored high on the National Primary Exam for entrance into high school, her parents could not afford the fees. She stayed home, not giving up hope that one day she’d continue her education.

Not long after the start of school, a friend’s parents offered to cover her school fees, as well as for her younger siblings. Their show of commitment to the community and love to Roseline and her family is a perfect way to measure friendship, and I’m confident their lives will be blessed for it.

Here is Roseline’s essay, which was shared with a donor who contributed to Lift the Lid's Library Fund at Mogonjet Secondary School. Click below to enlarge the image.

 
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Where Does Our Happiness Come From?

May 2nd, 2017|

We have been working with The School in a Cart in Cubao, the Philippines since 2011, raising money for and partnering with the students to give them a healthy life, a good education, spiritual awareness, and happiness. On Happiness, the children have enjoyed many holiday and school graduation parties, but when they write about their best days, they describe the hard work they’ve put into the band we formed in 2014, The Push Cart Children’s Band. They’ve written about their fear of learning new instruments, about the times they had failed to get the notes right, the countless hours they’ve spent practicing, and their insecurities performing in front of crowds.

Then they write about the applause and seeing family members watching and smiling from the audience. They write about feeling more proud than they ever thought possible. You can feel the emotion in Steven’s essay (below), as he describes in detail the first time they played at a popular shopping mall.

Steven on vocals between Daniella and Carla.

Recently, The Band played for a local church retreat. The children were invited to spend the night and partake in the fun, swimming in the hotel pool and sleeping in a proper bed! Many of them live with their families on the streets. These luxuries are a big deal and will hopefully inspire them to stay on track with their education.

Retreat-MacMac essay-pool-CM-SIAC-Apr2017 Retreat-MacMac essay-beds-CM-SIAC-Apr2017 Retreat-dinner served-CM-SIAC-Apr2017

We can provide and encourage and reward the children of The School in a Cart with happy days, but it is up to them to do the hard work, to overcome their fears and insecurities, and to step out on stage or show up for the exam when it really counts.

Speaking for Lift the Lid and the many donors who drive us forward, our happiness comes from each and every one of our students, from every small step of achievement they take and all the words they proudly brave writing for us. It’s amazing how much they are capable of giving!

Here is Steven’s essay translated from Tagalog. His original writing follows the translation.

Hi, I am Steven Mark (Macmac),

When I joined the band, I did not how to play the guitar or the drums but when Sir (Nonie) heard my voice, I finally was in. I was happy practicing singing. Our practice became frequent. We sung at Churches, at The Lord’s Church.

When Sir Iddo told us that we would play at Ali Mall, we had to practice ridgidly. On Sept 22, came the event we have been waiting for. Before we went to Ali Mall, we had another round of practice. Exactly at 5 PM we started playing. I was shy at first but when I saw my parents and brother in the audience my being shy went away.

My voice was already hoarse when we sung the last song. After the performance we ate while our parents went home. That was one of the happiest days.

Steven MacMac Abalayan-essay Family Support-CM-SIAC-Apr2017
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A Girl’s Education

April 13th, 2017|

 

Dalphone was born into a polygamous family, the first child. Upon her birth, her first gasp for air, social norms declared her unworthy of respect, even unlucky, because she wasn’t a he. Before she could learn to walk, she learned rejection from her community and extended family.

Dalphone’s parents, however, accepted her and allowed her to attend the local public school. Dalphone walked a long distance to and from her primary school, poorly dressed, poorly fed, and through the bush, where the threat of encountering wild animals was real. She writes in her essay that she’d rather be eaten then not go to school, and if she was meant to go to school then she wouldn’t be eaten. This faith gave her the courage to keep walking.

Dalphone worked hard in primary school, earning admittance into Lenana Girls’ High School in Kitale, Kenya, where she stays as a boarder, away from hurtful stigmas. She’s in her third year at Lenana and hopes to become a journalist.

To read Dalphone’s essay, click on the images below:

 
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How Will I Know When It’s Love?

April 7th, 2017|

Ask Now: When you want to get married, how does it feel? Fourteen-year-old Nzula Kivuva from Lenana Girls High School in Kitale, Kenya has many questions about life, as you can see in her letter below. For this post, I’ve highlighted Love.

Perhaps you know how your body works, about monthly periods and the pros and cons of hormones. Your parents or teachers might have been frank about sex: the risks, the responsibility of parenthood, and why waiting for marriage could help you to have clarity and avoid the wrong relationship. But do you know what it feels like to be in love?

I was thirty when I met and married my husband, Jonas, and then we waited until we were thirty-five before having our first son. We made the decision together, and at that point the idea of having a baby and becoming parents was very exciting. But before we got to that point, we learned to trust each other. We learned to appreciate each other's vulnerable spots, our hopes in life, and the fears that try to hold us back. We learned acceptance, and it came as a relief. We felt comfortable enough, confident enough to be ourselves, individuals in a close relationship. Unbounded and held tight. Free and devoted to each other.

Life is hard, but love comes easy when you're with the right partner. Mistakes are unavoidable, but forgiveness prevails. He walks into a room, and my heart jumps, as if I'm just seeing him and it's all new and exciting. For no apparent reason, I smile uncontrollably.

I wasn't a virgin when I met Jonas, and I had regrets, but I gave myself the time and space to let go of the negative thoughts, to find peace and self-respect, to feel strong, on my own.

If you’re feeling disappointed for becoming sexually active too soon, if your boyfriend or girlfriend and everyone else in your life has let you down, remember God’s unwavering love for you. Allow that Perfect Love to rebuild your self-esteem, and then Love Yourself back to a place where you can begin again.

   
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My Mother

March 7th, 2017|

Oh, how we are influenced by our mother! By her joys and her fears. By her rules and beliefs. We first see the world through her eyes. We see ourselves through her love. Her stories stay with us throughout life, and her wisdom guides us when our own stubbornness leaves us stranded.

Brigid of Namelok Junior Academy in Kisamis, Kenya writes about what makes her most happy: her mother and the folktales she tells. We can imagine her mother’s passion and energy sewing words into stories, embroidering them onto Brigid’s heart. Stories Brigid will pass down to her own children, sharing history and that happy warmth of Grandma’s love stitched together with her own.

You can click here to read Brigid's essay, to enlarge or print a copy: "My Mother." I also encourage you to click “It Could Have Been a Lonely Night,” the gentle, yet poignant poem Brigid wrote in 2014. Her creative spirit truly comes through in her writing!

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Help Your Teens Figure Out Who They Are

April 25th, 2015|

Ask Now: How do teens identify themselves? Sometimes by their hometown, their favorite sports team, color, music idol, or fad. They might swap their point of reference or how they view themselves on a yearly, monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. If our teens can’t base their identity on a trustworthy source, how can we expect them to have faith in themselves?

Favour Wambui from Lenana Girls High School in Kitale, Kenya wrote a poem for Lift the Lid about her country, Kenya, and what it means to her personally. She starts her poem wanting to separate herself from Kenya, but ends claiming Africa as her motherland.

Read Favour's poem and see how you can help your teenager know the true source of his/her strength and identity.

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Cutting is Not an Outlet. It is a TRAP

January 24th, 2015|

Ask Now: Can you imagine emotional pain so deep it seems only physical pain can alleviate it? Can you imagine cutting yourself to ease tension? One out of eight people in the United States practice NSSI, or Non-Suicidal Self-Injury, and it is most common among adolescents, generally starting between the ages 12 and 15.

Eleven-year-old Nancy Njoki of Namelok Junior Academy in Kisamis, Kenya chooses writing to express her pain. She wrote a poem titled, “I Really Do Exist,” and in it she personifies the HIV Virus. In essence, she becomes her pain.

Read Nancy's poem to see how she releases her anxieties without harming herself.

 
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The Scoop on Teenage Hormones

July 16th, 2014|

Ask Now: What do you do when your first experience with sex is negative? This question comes from thirteen-year-old Akhutu Lynn Kayabe, a student from Lenana Girls High School in Kitale, Kenya.

I know from your essay that you were married before reaching your teens in order to help your siblings out financially, that they might stay in school. While making such a sacrifice for your family is very honorable, this major change in your life at such a young age must have been difficult, confusing, and scary. When your first experience with sex is negative and becomes the root of unhappiness, it takes time, as well as discipline to change your outlook and reclaim your innocence, but it can be done. You must decide with your mind, body, and soul that it’s what you want for yourself and believe just as earnestly that it’s what God wants for you, as well. God wants you to have a healthy, positive understanding of sex, so that when you are older, it will be an amazing, life-giving expression of love in your marriage.

I can imagine strong emotions behind your questions, such as anger, fear, and frustration. If you have any one or all of these feelings toward sex, please don’t think you’re alone. I chose to write about this because it applies to millions of teens, girls and boys alike, who have jumped into physical relationships too fast and have learned to accept their confusion, rage, or disappointment as normal. Eventually, it can get to a point where you no longer have control of your own sexuality, and subsequently your life.

You can regain control by first deciding what is best for your health and your future. That might mean getting out of your current relationship, or slowing things down. If this seems too difficult, because it’s easier to please than it is to say no, think about what’s at risk: should you become pregnant, you may have to give up your education or your child; should you become exposed to disease, your health or even your life may be in danger. Finally, is it worth jeopardizing your relationship with your future chosen husband? Isn’t he worth waiting for?

First you need Courage and Discipline, and then you need Faith that new life, a better life, awaits!

So where do hormones fit in? Hormones are chemical messengers secreted into your blood stream by glands called endocrines. They stimulate critical reactions in your body; for example, growth, the breakdown of food, sexual function and reproductive health, plus mental ability, our moods, body temperature, and thirst.

You need your hormones, as does the continuation of the human race, but that does not mean you let your hormones control your decisions. Hormones cannot look after your baby if you become pregnant, and they will not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases. Hormones don’t know the depth of true love, either, and love is what makes sex a profound and powerful force. You cannot “escape” your hormones, but you can choose not to react to them until you're sure you know what you're getting into.

What if sex is not consensual? I’m referring to your question, “How can you escape in the rapist’s hands?” One answer is to scream and fight, and in that case, your hormones are on your side. These chemical messengers racing through your blood stream will charge your energy, give you strength you didn’t know you had, and even desensitize you to pain. But if you are outnumbered or are up against a weapon, fighting is not the answer. Here again, you have to be smart and decide what would be your safest reaction. When cruelty is all around you, let God be your escape. When you have nowhere to run to, imagine yourself safe in His arms and He will give you peace. Nothing can separate you from His love.

Two certainties we can expect as parents are questions from our children we'd like to avoid and mistakes from our children we wish we could have circumvented. Being receptive to their questions about sex will keep the doors of communication open, and outwardly loving them, even when they've made life-altering mistakes, will earn their trust and allow for second chances.

 
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Why Are My Periods Painful?

May 24th, 2014|

ASK NOW. What would you do without sanitary napkins?At Lenana Girls High School in Kitale, Kenya, the majority of girls live in poverty. They come from broken homes or are orphans. They are growing up with little or no guidance when it comes to understanding their bodies and the changes taking place. There isn’t the time, the energy, or the knowledge to talk in depth, and there isn’t the money to do anything about it.

Sexual-education is taught under Biology and Religious Studies at Lenana, but, as is the case in schools worldwide, teachers often feel uncomfortable talking about menstruation on a personal level. In other words, how to deal with it every month. A common situation: teachers assume parents are handling the logistics at home. Are they?

Girls who can’t afford pads ‘cope’ with their periods using dishrags, newspapers, straw, leaves, and mud. They sneak away to bury the used material in the ground. They confine themselves to their rooms in shame.

I’m responding to 15-year-old Abita Crystabel and other girls at Lenana and around the world who experience menstruation as something negative and debilitating. And yet, if we think about it, our ability to create a child, and in such a reliable and efficient way, is nothing short of a miracle.

How can we experience the miracle in menstruation?

I’ll start with some basic facts. When as girls we reach puberty, our womb (or uterus) prepares itself for motherhood each month, creating a lining in the event that the dominant egg becomes fertilized and attaches itself to the uterine wall. Think of it as getting out the softest, warmest blankets in the house for an expected visitor, a very special guest.

For whatever reason, if an egg is not fertilized, our womb sheds the lining (or puts away the blankets) until next month. This breakdown and shedding of the lining is our period. On average the whole cycle lasts about 28 days, with Day One being the first day of bleeding. Ovulation, when the dominant egg travels down the fallopian tube for possible fertilization, happens around day 14. Note that pregnancy can occur three days prior to ovulation, during, or even three days afterwards.

Why do we have cramps? If the matured egg is not fertilized, the uterus needs to discard its lining and start over again, right? Well, cells in the uterus produce a natural chemical called Prostaglandin, which causes the uterus, a muscle, to contract. These contractions are what pushes out the uterine lining, and for some women, they are too strong, causing cramps, nausea, headaches, diarrhea, and even back pain.

The best solution to painful periods is plenty of water (or coconut water), a healthy, balanced diet low in sugar and gluten, and aerobic exercise, like jogging and skipping rope.  Applying heat and lightly massaging the cramps can help, as well.

While all women have a menstrual cycle, we experience it differently. I’ve never had cramps, which likely means my cells produce low amounts of prostaglandin, the chemical that causes contractions. And, guess what, for the birth of both of my sons, I had to take a drug called Pitocin to induce labor. It stimulated painful contractions that lasted over 15 hours . . . and I opted out of painkillers. Ouch!!! In the end, I can say that every hour spent screaming and clenching was worth the new life placed in my arms.

Okay, now the second necessity to seeing the miracle in menstruation: sanitary napkins. This is something I take for granted every month, and to be honest, I cannot imagine my periods without them.

Yes, there are other ways, such as ‘pads’ made of mud and straw. A rag. Newspaper. But these options are not clean, and they do not provide the security needed to participate in life.

We shoulder the responsibility of childbearing and need to be safe from infection during menstruation. We should not miss class or work or avoid sports and exercise. We should never feel ashamed.

The next time you suffer from menstrual cramps or feel inconvenienced and moody, remember the miracle. We have the gift of life within us . . . need I say more?

Lift the Lid, Inc. is a registered charity I started in 2010. We sponsor Lenana Girls High School, among other schools, and are raising money for The Miracle Project, supplying the girls with reusable sanitary menstrual cups called Mooncups. Please help us out and make a secure donation here: http://www.lift-the-lid.org/how-it-works/donate/

 
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Believing is Seeing

April 24th, 2014|

ASK NOW is sponsored by Lift the Lid, a registered charity that encourages writing and self-expression in underprivileged schools. Here, students living in developing countries can seek guidance . . . and find acceptance.

What do you struggle with in life? What challenge keeps you up at night and stands like a high wall between yourself and happiness? Phoebe Naserem is in primary school at Namelok Junior Academy in Kisamis, Kenya. She struggles to maintain passing grades in one of her subjects, which as we all know can brew a feeling of failure that spills out over everything we do.

When I was young, I had trouble in math. It started in primary school, and eventually I made up my mind to avoid any career that involved numbers. I literally closed my mind to the subject. What kind of grades do you think I got? Here's an equation for you: believe you're rubbish in math × decide math is for the dogs = fail at math.

Failure. That's not what Phoebe in Kenya or any of us wants, whether the challenge is math, a sport, or a project at work. Here’s a perfect example: I started the nonprofit Lift the Lid because I believed wholeheartedly that writing increases confidence and promotes self-awareness. It connects people and bridges cultures. Running a charity also involves numbers, spreadsheets, in fact, and endless tax forms. There’s the website to maintain, and then fundraising. I loved and was good at motivating students, but not the rest. It quickly became clear to me that in order to run a successful charity I would have to ‘get good’ at the tough parts, too. But how?

The logical answer would be to try harder, work at it until you see results, but maybe you've done that and nothing has changed. Well, let me tell you, the desire for hard work was not why I embarked on Lift the Lid. What it came down to is I BELIEVED I could do it.

Believing is the first step. What if we prayed day and night, but didn't fully believe in God’s love for us? Wouldn't that sabotage His blessings in our lives? Believing allows something to happen, it means you are giving yourself to the task . . . and to the benefits it produces. If we don't believe we can learn a tough subject or overcome an obstacle, then our hearts and minds are closed to the challenge, no matter how much physical effort we put into it.

So how do we make ourselves believe? Last year, when my son Lucas, who is now five, was learning to tie his tie for a gold star at school, he kept saying, “I can't!” (in his British accent) and wanted to give up. He was trying, but he wasn’t ‘believing.’ I insisted he say, “I can!” instead, and shortly thereafter, he was tying his tie! (You can see him in the photo looking very proud in his school uniform.) The trick is telling yourself, “I can do it!” over and over again —until you’re convinced and the work is done.

Franz Kafka, author of The Metamorphosis, said, “By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”

Read Phoebe's poem about what makes her happy and keeps her believing.

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