Why Do We Write to the Dead?

October 13th, 2017|

Sunshine, photographed below, and many of the children at The School in a Cart in Cubao, the Philippines, have written letters to their friend Dave, who was murdered in his sleep on the city streets this past May. Their letters express their sorrow, their confusion and disbelief, their anger and guilt, and their faith that Dave lives on in spirit and can read their letters or at least know what is written on their hearts. So, why do we write to the dead? Saying good-bye is ingrained in our daily human existence, across all cultures, whether to the dead or to family members when we step out to do some shopping. We feel incomplete, shaken, panicked even, if we leave someone we love for an extended period of time without saying good-bye, without an embrace or a kiss. We need that closure and the comfort that comes from a sense of connection despite distance. Yes, even if that person has died. But is a letter to the dead purely for ourselves as we work through our grief and long for closure? Maybe not. Most letters to the dead are written as if in conversation, as if the diseased were right there, reading them over our shoulders. Our words come from our hearts, and whether we believe in the after-life or not, our hearts tell us that love transcends time, matter, and is ever-lasting.   See Sunshine's letter to Dave below in Tagalog, followed by the English translation: So sudden was the stabbing and Balong (Dave) was gone. We were sad for what happened to my cousin (Sunshine considered Dave a cousin.) He was our cousin and we loved him even if he was naughty and hard-headed. Why did this happen? He did not do what they thought he had done. He did not break the car window. I could not accept that this had to happen. I hope the one who did this will be caught soon. May his conscience bother him! There were many kids around but why was it that it was you the culprit saw. I wished you went home with Kuya (big brother Jordan.) I wished you did not feel sleepy and did not leave your house. Don’t give up. I will get even for you. You were not only a cousin, you were a good friend. I know you and Kuya were always together. I hope you are happy in heaven. Don’t be said because we will get the one who killed you so that you will then be happy. We love you very much, cousin and best friend.

Does Love Grow Old??

July 1st, 2017|

Does love grow old? When Abigael Mantaine sat down to think about love for Namelok’s Fourth Annual Poetry Competition, she thought of her mother. She thought of moments she felt completely comforted and at peace, of her mother’s gentleness and protection, her advice and acceptance. The love she remembers doesn’t end with her youth. Her mother ages, becomes frail; time wears away, but her love is unchanging. Abigail fears the day she’ll lose her mother, but never has to fear losing her love.

My nonprofit Lift the Lid, which supports underfunded schools and encourages the students to write, hosts annual writing and poetry competitions at each of the three schools we work with in Kenya, and at the Happy Family Children’s Village in Tanzania, the latest addition to our outreach! First place winners receive $100, $50 of which to use for their own needs and $50 to buy something needed or just plain fun for their class. We also choose a second place winner ($25) and honorable mentions.

Congratulations, Abigail, on placing First!!

Here is her winning poem, typed for ease of reading and her original work below:

My Mother

“Love is a strong feeling that you have when you [feel] a mother’s love for her children.

When I was a child, [my mother] would comfort me. She wiped my tears, so tenderly.

As I laid my head upon her chest, this was my most peaceful rest.

She sang to me so I would sleep. These precious moments are mine to keep.

Her gentle touch, her caring face, there could be no other to take her place.

She tried to teach me right from wrong. She always gives and never takes. Never does she criticize my mistakes.

The years have quickly passed by, in her eyes the aging lies.

Her skin has wrinkled, her hair turned grey. How I yearn for yesterday.

She is tired, her health is poor. She sits waiting for me to walk through the door.

When she is gone, my heart will die, and I will count the days till I see her again.

This person I speak of could be no other. She is, of course, my loving mother.”


How We Help Each Other to Carry On After a Tragedy

June 7th, 2017|

London was home to me and my family for five years. The recent attacks feel personal, and it hurts to see the City and our friends living there terrorized. Violence in another form, though much the same, has taken the life of our student, Dave, who was murdered in his sleep on May 15th at the age of 13, soon to be 14. We can grieve. We can remember. We can embrace an ethos of determined strength and vigilant caution. And we can reach out to those who are suffering.

Thank you, Pastors Torquil Allen and Richard Bowman of Frampton Park Baptist Church in London, England. I hope it is a consolation that your donation means a great deal to the grieving students at The School in a Cart in Cubao, the Philippines. Principal Alfredo Olavidez took them shopping for school supplies, backpacks, new uniforms and shoes. The outing to the discount market reminded everyone that life will continue with happiness and hope.

School in a Cart students school shopping

Writing is a solace for grief. Below is Dave's cousin Richard Jay's essay, written a few days after hearing of Dave's tragic death. Following the English translation is his original essay in Tagalog:

Richard Jay writes:

I was sad and angry when I learned that Balong (Dave’s term of endearment), my cousin and best friend, was gone. He did not do any harm to be stabbed helplessly. He was so young to deserve this thrill killing.

There were times we cousins quarreled but misunderstandings were settled immediately after I approached him to patch up. If I did not have enough money to rent a computer to play, he would make up for the difference. Every time we ate together he saw to it that I ate first. My cousin was loving even if sometime he was hardheaded. When he served me food at his house, he did not allow me to get out until I finished my share. He forced things out and would not stop until he got what he wanted.

Balong respected my parents. He helped us when there were things to move around the house. He helped babysit “Pogi” (RJ’s 1 year old brother whose pet name means handsome.) He made us cousins happy especially at times when we slept at a rooftop. He was a joker when we were lonely. However, he was serious when it come to playing a computer game or basketball.

Balong was a jolly fellow. He could smile and laugh even if he had problems. If he got in trouble with somebody we, his cousins, came to his rescue. But he did not want us to get involved in any fight he got into. But if we were in trouble, he helped us even if he got beaten up.


Richard Jay playing his guitar in The School in a Cart Band

Click to enlarge RJ's essay in Tagalog


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.


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

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.


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!


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.


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.


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.