The Blog of Many Voices . . .

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, and they come from the heart.

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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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How Does It Feel to Live in a Tall Building

March 25th, 2014|

Ask Now: How does it feel to live in a tall building? Eleven-year-old Jackson Saruni Nunu from Namelok Junior Academy in Kisamis, Kenya asks the question.

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

So, how does it feel to live in a tall building?

When I used to live in New York City, I'd take the small, not very fast elevator to the ninth floor of my apartment building. Nine floors is not what New Yorkers think of when you say "tall building," but still when I'd look out my windows at the people and cars below, I would feel a part of the sun's rays streaming down from the sky...or the raindrops in mid-fall...or those cheeky snowflakes that sometimes blow upwards before dizzily joining the bustle below.

The tallest building I've ever been in is the North Tower of the World Trade Center, on the 107th floor. This was shortly before the Towers were struck down on September 11, 2001. Ah, that was the view of birds! I felt light and airy suspended beneath a dome of stars, above a trillion city lights winking up at me.

Height from a building or from a plateau might give you a sense of power, of being above the world’s troubles, above your own worries even, but, of course, eventually you take the ‘elevator’ back down. Whether you’re standing above New York’s city streets or above the stillness of Kenya’s open plains, there is the sense of being removed from life, as if you could step outside your body and hold God’s hand.

What happens when you return to life’s routine, to your parents and teachers and friends? Do you drop God’s hand? When you’re face to face with your fears, your challenges at school or work, your country’s tragedies, do you feel as if you’re on your own, just you and the consequences?

Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? (Jeremiah 23: 23-24 ESV)

Right, it’s not just you. On your own. Alone. God rides that elevator back down to ground floor with you. He walks home with you, even when the plains are flooded. He suffers the consequences of humanity’s sins, and of your own mistakes, with you. He holds tighter to your hand.

Living in tall buildings?  . . . it's really all the same.

 
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