We can see the hurt in your eyes as you try so hard to be strong. We can hear you convincing yourself and others that everything is okay. We watch you hiding behind the mask of having it all together, when you really feel helpless and with no way out. We know that you feel invisible. We know that you wouldn’t dream of speaking up, but please know that you are not alone in this. We see you because we see ourselves in you…
I love you, but…
I never said that…
You’re crazy. I never did that to you…
You must be remembering it wrong…
You brace for the words you know are coming as he embarrasses you in public again. He must not realize how much it stings. He’s only teasing. You take things too seriously, he tells you. You feel yourself harden as layer after layer of his words threaten to squeeze the life out of your once tender heart.
You try to explain it all away – He doesn’t mean to be so critical. He just had a hard day. He’s under so much stress. If you hadn’t been so dumb. If only you hadn’t messed up.
You try so hard, but somehow he knows just what to say to make you feel increasingly small.
Nothing is ever good enough. Life with him means walking on eggshells. You try so hard to please him, but you find yourself always coming up short. You try to brush it off when you’re with others, always covering and making excuses for him. He’s just particular. He works so hard. You’ll try harder.
So much of your life is wrapped up in him. You feel like you don’t deserve him or the life he’s given you. You don’t remember what life was like without him.
You’ve never done anything untrustworthy, but he seems to be jealous for no reason. It’s like he doesn’t trust you. He’s just being protective, you tell yourself. You always feel like you’ve done something wrong, but you’re not even sure what it is that you feel guilty about anymore.
He seemed so eager to meet your friends and family in the beginning, almost desperate to impress them. You’re not quite sure how it happened, but gradually things have changed. He says they’re trying to drive a wedge between you. They just don’t understand him like you do. You feel so torn. Of course you love him, but you’re starting to feel smothered and you’d give anything for just a tiny breath of air.
When you do get out of the house, it feels like he’s checking up on you. You don’t want to hurt his feelings or make him angry, but why can’t you have just this little bit of time for yourself? You explain it away to your friends – He’s just being protective. He just misses you. But when you get home, you will still feel guilty. The next time your friends invite you out, you might say no. It’s just not worth it.
You feel your cheeks burn as you ask him for money. He tells you where and when you can go shopping, and even checks your receipts when you come home. He says he’s making sure you aren’t wasting money.
You feel guilty for even questioning him, but it just doesn’t make sense. You thought the two of you would be a team, but tears sting in your eyes when you can’t shake this horrible feeling that you’re more like a doormat than a partner.
You don’t even want to bother with dressing up today. You’re really tired of his questions when you put on makeup or perfume. You just want to feel a little better about yourself, but he asks who you’re trying to impress. He says you don’t need makeup, so maybe you won’t even bother with it.
You gaze at the clothes in the back of your closet – the ones he won’t let you wear. You would love to feel pretty and stylish again, but now it doesn’t feel like you even have a style.
You want to treat yourself to a much-needed haircut, but he doesn’t want you to cut it. He says you get sassy with shorter hair. Maybe you shouldn’t rock the boat.
You thought things would be different. You don’t like going to church alone, but you wish he’d stop making hurtful comments. You hate feeling like you have to balance your relationship with him and your faith. This is important to you. Why can’t he understand that?
He found a way to use Scripture to make you feel beneath him. You work so hard to obey and be a good Christian wife, but you never measure up.
Or maybe he won’t let you go to church at all.
He said he was sorry… You softly run your finger over the bruise. He said he didn’t mean to. He promised it would never happen again…
You look at the closed door. You’ve slowly put the pieces together. Hurt and angry tears threaten to fall as you feel crushed by more overwhelming waves of guilt. You’re not enough for him. Not pretty enough. Not sexy enough. It’s just a guy thing. You hate it – all of those images of other women invading his eyes and your relationship. You think to yourself, At least he’s not cheating on me… But you feel your heart break a little more each time.
Does he even hear you say no? Does he see the tears falling down your cheeks? Does he even care?
You long to feel safe – to be held tenderly, and not held down. To be caressed, and not fondled. To make love, and not forced. The dark, far away look in his eyes says that he doesn’t really see you. You squeeze your eyes closed, shutting out the world around you, and numbing yourself to what is happening. Agonizingly, you wait in the darkness for it to be over.
Frightened, your mind races as you roll over and wait for him to fall asleep. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. You feel dirty. Used. Betrayed in the deepest level of your being. Something begins to form in the back of your mind, but you force it away before you can say it. It’s your husband. Not a stranger in a dark alley. It can’t be… Can it?
You watch as he battles his demons. You pick him up when he falls. You drag him to bed to sleep it off. Once again you’ll make excuses to cover for him. You’ve tried to get him the help he needs, but nothing seems to stick. He needs you. You’re afraid of what he’ll do if you ever leave…
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can find healing, acceptance, and your joy in life again. If any of this resonates with you, we beg of you to find someone you can talk to and who can hold your hand as you walk through this journey. Please open up to someone whom you trust and let them help you through this.
And we can’t stress this enough – if you are in a relationship where someone is hurting you physically or sexually, PLEASE SEEK SAFETY. Chances are that if those are happening to you, then you can relate to the other stories, too. We beg of you to take your children and find a shelter or a safe house where you can get help. Call the police – they are here to protect you, but they can’t help if you don’t go to them. It doesn’t matter what he said in the past. If it has happened once, studies show that it will happen again – and we just can’t bear the thought of one of you getting hurt again… or worse.
If any part of this is your story, Precious Friend, we want so much to give you a big hug and tell you that you don’t have to walk through this by yourself. If any of these resonate in your own life, please know that we are right there with you – holding your hand. Studies show that one in every four women and girls around the world share a similar story. This is the story of our journey and the journeys of others who have gone before you – the darkest moments of our lives, brokenness, finding a strength we never knew we had, and HOPE – wild and beautiful hope for the future.
We can’t wait to begin this journey of healing with you.
Please remember one thing…
You are seen. You are loved. And you are not alone.
(Portions of text were originally published here.)
This is not our drill… Our SheHopes shirts are here!!!
Unisex sizing, heather gray, v-neck, and oh so soft – you can spread the message of HOPE while helping women and girls around the world! Each purchase goes to our mission of helping women and girls around the world!
Free pick-up for our local community, and shipping available for our out-of-town friends!
One of the questions we are most frequently asked, is if we are a religious organization. While we are under the umbrella of Restoration Church in Wichita, Kansas, (and work with churches in India and East Africa), SheHopes is a non-religious nonprofit organization in an effort to help as many women and girls as we can around the world. At SheHopes, we believe that every woman and every girl deserves to be empowered and have hope, regardless of where they live on the map or their religion.
One of the special things we have been able to do is to talk about the heart of SheHopes in churches here at home and around the world. As I thought about what to share with the churches where we were invited to speak, I wanted to look at how God has treated women in the Bible – thousands of years ago. You see, the world hasn’t really changed that much since then. History is full of women and girls who have been victims of oppression, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and even spiritual abuse. Their only crime was being born a girl. Sadly, this continues even now.
Today we are sharing with you the message that we have shared in churches in America, Kenya, and India… How does God look at women and girls? And how can we use that to help our sisters around the world today?
Hagar – Nothing about Hagar’s life had been easy. She was a slave girl from Egypt. She was forced to marry an old man to have his baby for her childless mistress. Genesis 16 tells us that once she conceived and was going to have a baby, her mistress treated her harshly – so harshly that Hagar ran away and found herself alone in the wilderness.
This is not the life that young Hagar had imagined – pregnant and alone in the desert. God saw her there in the wilderness that day. When it felt like she had lost every bit of hope, he was there. When it felt like no one could see her – a young victim of human trafficking – he was there. He comforted her heart, told her to return to her mistress, and assured her that he would multiply her offspring.
Genesis 16:13 says, “So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me…’”
Several years later, we are in Genesis 21 and Hagar is again in the wilderness. This time she and her son had been cast away from their home. They wandered in the desert for so long that they ran out of water – and Hagar had the agonizing realization that her precious son was dying.
I have three sons. They are 13 years old, 11 years old, and 9 years old, and my mommy heart breaks as I imagine how Hagar must have felt that day. She lovingly laid her child under a bush – then she walked away from him, sat down, and waited for him to die. There was nothing she could do. There was no one to help her. Once again she had lost every bit of hope and she was alone in the wilderness.
But then something happened. The God who saw her in her time of loneliness several years before – comes to her again. He tells her to fear not, for he has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Genesis 21:18-20 – “’Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up…”
God saw Hagar there in the wilderness. He sees our hearts and hears even our silent cries when it feels like no one else sees us.
Samaritan Woman – There is a story in John chapter 4 about a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. This is unusual for several reasons:
1 – He was speaking to a woman – and traditionally Jewish men did not speak to women in public at all – even their own wives.
2 – He was speaking to a Samaritan woman. The Jewish culture of the time looked down upon people from Samaria. They avoided dealing with Samaritans as much as possible, but here is Jesus asking her for a drink of water.
3 – He is speaking to a woman who had a shameful past. She has had more than one husband, and now she was with a man she wasn’t married to. Jesus could see into her heart, but he still speaks to her – a woman, a Samaritan, a sinner.
Not only does he speak to her, but he also offers her eternal life.
John 4:14 – “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
When we have been rejected, he is right there with us. He loves us, forgives us, and accepts us. He offered this woman, and He still offers us exactly what we need – His perfect living water.
Woman with Blood Disorder – This next woman in Scripture has a story that is short, but full of daring faith. Once again, we don’t know her name, but her story is close to my heart.
Mark 5:25-26 says, “And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.”
This woman did not have a monthly cycle – she had a daily cycle of blood for twelve years. TWELVE YEARS. Can you imagine how weak she must have been? The Bible says that this woman SUFFERED at the hands of doctors. She spent everything she had for over a decade to try to heal her body – but she only grew worse. And then she heard about the man called Jesus, who has been doing what doctors could not do – he was healing the blind, healing those who couldn’t walk, and casting out demons.
Verse 27-28, “She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”
This fragile woman had tried everything possible, but when she heard the stories of Jesus’s miracles, her faith became alive again. For the first time in a long time – she had HOPE.
Verse 29 – “And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.”
Reaching out in faith had healed what no one else could.
Jesus sensed that healing power had gone out of him – and he asked, “Who touched my garments?” He knew exactly who touched him – but what happens next is a beautiful example of His love and care for us.
You see, when a woman was on her cycle, she was considered unclean because of Old Testament Law. Not only had this woman lost everything to doctors to try to fix her problem, she was also shamed. According to the Law, she should not have been away from her house, and she certainly shouldn’t be touching a man – Jesus. But her faith in Him was stronger than her fear and shame. The Bible says, “She came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.”
Let’s look at what Jesus did next in verse 34, “And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
By calling her Daughter, he healed her disease, he accepted her, and covered her shame.
Woman Caught in Adultery – There is a story in the Book of John about a woman who had been caught in bed with a man who was not her husband. She was committing adultery. The woman knew that the punishment for her sin was to be stoned. She knew that she was guilty and now she was being dragged away and placed in front of Jesus where she waited for the Son of God to condemn her for this secret sin and to end her life.
She must have paralyzed with fear as he bent down to the ground, but his hands did not pick up a stone. What did he do instead? He stretched out his finger and wrote in the dirt on the ground. As he lowered himself to the ground, the men who were there to condemn her to death turned their angry eyes off of her – and looked at Jesus.
He said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he bent down again and continued to write on the ground. The Bible doesn’t give us any specifics, but I’ve always been curious what he was writing with his finger that day. He saw the depths of her heart, and he still covered her guilt and shame with forgiveness. In a time in history when Jewish men had nothing to do with women in public, instead of condemning this woman, he protected her.
The Bible says that one by one, each of her accusers left until Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. No one dared to argue further with him that day.
John 8:10 – “Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more.’”
Jesus saw her heart, and covered her with his gift of forgiveness.
Mary Magdalene – The Bible says that Mary Magdalene met Jesus when she was healed from seven demons. After that, she followed Jesus and served him for the rest of his time on earth. She wouldn’t leave her Savior. He had healed her from so much, that she wouldn’t even leave him while he was dying on the cross. The Book of Mark says that she watched where Jesus was laid after he died.
As soon as the Sabbath was over, she came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark – but when she arrived at the place where her Savior and friend had been buried, fear gripped her heart as she saw that the stone was rolled away – and his body was gone.
Tears filled Mary’s eyes. As she turned around to leave, she saw a man standing there, but she did not recognize him. Like Mary, there are times when we are also blinded by our own fear and feelings of hopelessness and we can’t see Him there with us – but then, and this is my favorite part, he gently called her by name. “Mary…” And instantly she knew it was her Savior.
John 20:18, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” – and that he had said these things to her.”
When all seems lost and we feel alone, He is right there with us, gently calling us by name. He alone can wipe the tears from our eyes, and show himself to us.
We live in a world that doesn’t always value women and girls the way the Lord sees them. We can look at the stories of His faithfulness in the Bible and know that He continues to be faithful today.
Hagar has a story. The Samaritan Woman has a story. The woman with the blood disorder has a story. The woman caught in adultery has a story. Mary Magdalene has a story. I have a story. You have a story. We all have stories of times when we felt hopelessness, rejection, shame, guilt, and fear – but what I want us all to remember is that in each of our stories, He is right there with us. He sees our hearts, accepts us, heals us, forgives us, and shows Himself faithful to us. Even when you can’t see him – He is there.
- What is SheHopes.org? What is the mission?
The mission of our SheHopes family is to bring life, light, and hope to women and girls around the world. We do this through meeting basic needs, education, self-defense skills, and job training. Check out our About Us page over here at https://www.shehopes.org/about/
- Why was SheHopes started and when?
The idea of SheHopes was born in December 2015 out of hearing the stories of women and girls around the world who are the victims of violence, not given the educational opportunities that boys have, and lack the job skills and training to provide for themselves financially. Ginger Lobdell (SheHopes founder) visited Kenya and India in 2016, and witnessed the oppression and violence that women and girls experience. She knew something had to be done.
In Ginger’s words, “Everyone has a story. My life fell apart in 2009 – I felt broken and alone. I became a single mother, and I had three little faces looking up at me. That’s when someone came alongside me, trained me in a job that allowed me to provide for my little boys, and gave me the gift of hope.
Several years later, I was able to listen to stories from women and girls while traveling in Kenya and India. SheHopes was born out of those stories. Too many of our sisters around the world have been victims of oppression, violence, inadequate education, and lack of vocational training. Their only crime was being born a girl. The heart of SheHopes is to bring them life, light, and hope. We are currently working in Kenya, India, and here at home in America. Our goal is to give these women and girls the tools they need to protect themselves from dangerous environments, to learn freely, and create a life where they can support themselves and their families financially. It’s not about giving handouts – it’s about cultivating opportunities to save and change lives.
None of this is possible without hope. Through providing them a safe haven from violence, and giving them empowerment through job opportunities, we can ignite a spark of hope in their hearts. Who knows? The impact of this life-changing fire of hope just might change the world.”
- Who is in SheHopes?
Every heart has a story, and each member of the SheHopes family brings their own passion and stories from their own journey to helping others around the world. We have a self-defense advocate, accountants, a hairstylist, an engineer, a psychology graduate, stay-at-home moms, an artist, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, and more in our family. Check out the Our Community page to take a look at our amazing core contributors and the other groups we partner with! https://www.shehopes.org/ourcommunity/
- What can I do to help? How can I donate?
On the Take Action page of our website, we make it easy to give a donation of any amount to help out our sisters all over the world. TheTake Action page also gives some other great ideas on how to help out. https://www.shehopes.org/take-action/
- Do you accept volunteers?
There is always something you can do to help! Donating time, energy or money are great ways to help our cause. SheHopes is not currently accepting applications for volunteers for trips to Kenya and India, but please stay tuned to our Take Action page and our Facebook page to find out more ways you can help and keep in the loop on our current projects.
- Is SheHopes a religious organization?
While we are under the umbrella of Restoration Church in Wichita, Kansas, (and work with churches in Kenya and India), SheHopes is a non-religious nonprofit organization in an effort to help as many women and girls as we can around the world. At SheHopes, we believe that every woman and every girl deserves to be empowered and have hope, regardless of where they live on the map or their religion.
- Is SheHopes 100% nonprofit? Where do donations go?
Every penny donated to SheHopes goes directly to helping girls and women (and boys) all around the world. Donations go to supplies such as sewing machines to teach job skills, fabric to make reusable sanitary pads, providing school meals for children from a slum, and more. Our SheHopes family voluntarily pays out-of-pocket to travel abroad to distribute these goods and teach self-defense classes, so you can be assured that your donation goes straight to the cause you love.
- Why Kenya and India? What about America?
As a global community, SheHopes is working all over the world to help women and girls have hope and empowerment. In this, we do work internationally and locally here in America.
There are many amazing organizations here in the United States, but when we saw the needs in Kenya and India and the simple ways that we could change lives, our hearts jumped at the chance to help. As we grow, we hope to do more here at home. We’ll go where we are needed.
- Let’s give the girls Diva Cups!
Menstrual flow cups are wonderful products that are easily cleanable, if you have access to clean running water. Sadly, many of the women and girls that we work with do not have access to reliable, clean, and running water. Because of the nature of the menstrual cups being reinserted into the body, we would like to avoid this by giving disposable pads and working with a seamstress in Kenya to make reusable sanitary pads. These are an external version of feminine hygiene that can be disinfected using an easily made and affordable salt solution, and it do not need to be inserted into the body.
- Why are feminine hygiene products so important for girls?
On average, women and girls have their cycles for one week every month each year. Many girls stay home from school during this week due to a lack of feminine hygiene products, leading to missing many weeks of school and falling behind. For many, this leads to dropping out and eventual poverty due to a lack of education. Those that do attempt to go to school on their cycle often try to use items such as leaves, rags, mud or even rocks as feminine hygiene products. By giving girls pads, they can go to school consistently and eventually provide for themselves financially.
- Who makes the washable pads and SheHopes purses?
SheHopes is all about giving women and girls the tools to succeed and become empowered, so we work with seamstresses directly in the communities we are in! The reusable pads and SheHopes purses are made in Kitale, Kenya are made by Stella, Susan, and Jan. Stella is working on teaching girls in her community how to sew their own reusable pads, which is giving them much-needed job skills for the future.
- Why self-defense?
Statistics show that worldwide one out of every four females experience violence in their lives. However, these statistics are based only on women and girls who come forward after experiencing violence. In India, it is estimated that a rape occurs every twenty seconds.
During our travels and speaking with women and girls, we found that almost every woman and girl had a similar story, or knew someone close to them who has experienced such violence. SheHopes wants to empower these women and girls by teaching them simple, yet effective, self-defense using Fearless and Female techniques so that they can protect themselves and have confidence in their self-worth. We teach self-defense as a method of protection and escape, and not for violence.
To find out more about our self-defense programs check out https://www.shehopes.org/self-defense/
- If you have any questions not addressed here please feel free to contact us by email at Ginger@SheHopes.org.
Hello everybody! My name is Kelsey and I live in Austin, Texas and I just wanted to tell you guys a little bit about myself and how I’m involved in SheHopes. I’m 24 and have my bachelor’s degree in psychology, am certified in mental health first aid, and am aiming towards a master’s degree in counseling. I found out about SheHopes through Ginger, the founder. Ginger is soon-to-be my sister-in-law! She is married to Joe whose younger brother Noah is my fiancé.
It has been a dream in my heart ever since I was a little girl to go to Africa with a nonprofit, and try to help people all around the world. After hearing about the amazing work SheHopes was doing, I was entranced and knew I had to be a part of this amazing movement. Ginger told me about the great need the girls and women SheHopes works with had for counseling due to many of the women and girls experiencing traumas of one form or another. Counseling has always been my passion, so when Ginger asked me if I would be willing to help her with the emotional needs of the SheHopes women, I was ecstatic.
Ginger and I just came back from Kenya where I accompanied her to learn about the needs, share my story, and help teach self-defense and empowerment, so that I could work on developing a plan for a possible counseling program. During my visit to Kenya I fell in love with the people, especially the amazing women and girls that I was privileged to meet and talk to. Though my heart broke hearing many of the stories shared, and I knew I would not come back the same person who left, I have hope things will get better, that all of us can help our sisters near and far.
And that’s what SheHopes is all about, spreading hope, love, light and empowerment to women all over the globe. Right now myself, the amazing people at SheHopes, those on the ground in Kenya and India, and even here at home are working on how to help these women, be it through counseling and support, job training, or meeting basic needs. I am so proud to be a part of the SheHopes team!
First of all you, many of you may be asking yourself this one question: How in the world did an eleven-year-old 5th grader start a fundraiser that would be able to donate toys to kids in around the world? Well, here is my story.
Hello, my name is Aiden, and I’m from Wichita, Kansas. I love to read, and one day I was reading a book called Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul when I came across a story that caught my eye in a very interesting type of way. It was about a girl that delivered stuffed animals around the world to kids in need.
I showed my mom, who is one of the leaders in a group called SheHopes.org, and I asked her if I could collect stuffed animals for kids, too, so they know that they have friends in America who care for them. She liked the idea because she was planning to travel back to Kenya and India this year, so we spent about an hour coming up with ideas and designing the logo. When we were done, I thought that this should be a local fundraiser and it should not be just for our family. We should ask all of Wichita to help!
I gave a small speech at our church to tell them about the idea, and I made a video for Facebook, asking for gently used stuffed animal donations. I even spoke at a Fearless and Female self-defense class!
We set up giant boxes in local stores and made a couple hundred flyers as well. The stores that we set them in were Blazing Electronics (a cell phone repair store), Things 4 That (a friend’s arts and crafts store), and one at Restoration Church. While I was at school, I sometimes wondered how many stuffed animals we had. When my mom and I checked in on the boxes, they started to grow super high with stuffed animals! We ended up with over 300 stuffed animals! I was super excited! I even made another video for Facebook to thank everyone who helped!
A couple of days before my mom was supposed to go on the trip to Kenya with my future aunt (Miss Kelsey), I worked together with my brothers, my stepdad, and my mom to package up over 200 stuffed animals for the trip! We also packed baby formula and vitamins for moms who are going to have babies (something else we were gonna give away to women in Kenya). The next day Mom and Miss Kelsey left for Kenya. I was so excited and also glad for them, but I was also going to miss them! It was like I had mixed emotions for whether to miss them or not, since part of the reason they were going was to give the Hugs for Hope stuffed animals to kids they were meeting at schools and an orphanage for kids with special needs.
I stayed at my dad’s house for a solid downright two weeks while my mom was gone. Mom kept in touch with me. We often texted or called each other, (that’s one of the good sides to having a phone when you’re young.) Mom sent me pictures of the kids getting their stuffed animals which made me feel so happy! I loved looking at the pictures and videos so much that one time I was almost late for school!
When they got back I was so happy! Some of the kids even wrote me thank you notes, which I of course read before I started working on my home work. I can’t wait to see pictures from when my mom will take more of our Hugs for Hope stuffed animals to an orphanage in India with her later this year!
Just look at their happy faces! Thank you for everyone who made this possible! I could not have done it without you!
Aiden is a smart, funny, (almost) 6th grader who loves practicing parkour, playing Pokémon, doing math for fun, and hanging out with his brothers. He hopes to be a missionary when he grows up.
P.S. His mom couldn’t be prouder.
“Excuse me, Teacher, but what if more than one bad man is attacking you?”
The laughter in our self-defense class came to a complete stop. She looked down at her hands. All 200 girls became silent as they waited for me to answer this quiet girl’s question.
She was still fidgeting with her hands when I asked her name. “Judisa,” she answered barely above a whisper. She looked up, and asked the question again. “How can we get away if there is more than one bad man?” I’ll never forget the fear I saw her eyes. Our translator came up behind me to explain that an eleven-year-old girl was recently attacked and raped in the nearby forrest. She had been on her way to school. By the time her cries were heard, it was too late.
I dropped to the ground in the center of the circle to show them ways to fight off an attacker. I asked if the girls would be able to join me to practice these techniques, but I learned that they would not feel comfortable practicing on the ground. I showed them how the same skills we had learned standing up could also be used while on the ground. Then we reminded them that if one technique didn’t work, to try another. If a wrist-release wasn’t working, then try the foot stomp. If striking the attacker’s nose didn’t work, get him with your knee in the groin. Don’t give up. Most importantly – do not walk alone, especially through the forrest. Two girls are better than one, three are better than two, and groups are even safer. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, LISTEN to your intuition and get away. Humans, and especially girls, are the only creatures on earth that don’t listen to their instincts. That funny feeling we get in our belly, the pressure in our chests, the tingling on our head – those are all gifts of warning to us. Listen to the warning, then run away. Always run away to safety.
As we closed the class, Kelsey and I talked more with Judisa. She was a refugee. Her family had come to Kenya from South Sudan to escape the horrors of war and famine. Kenya was her Promised Land, and now she was still faced with the threat of danger every single day. She told us about her little brothers and sisters. She told us about how she loved coming to school, and that she hoped to be a doctor someday. She told us that even though the she had never been attacked, she knew many girls who had been the victims of violence. This young girl who had already seen far more death and destruction than anyone should ever have to see in a lifetime promised that she would help younger girls practice the skills they learned in our class.
As we left, Kelsey gave Judisa her very own personal safety device – a Stabby Kitty. To the rest of the world, it looks like a cat-shaped keychain, but in the hands of a girl who has learned to protect herself, it can be used as an extension of her training – to keep the bad guy away.
I asked Mary, our translator, why the girls were not comfortable with practicing self-defense skills on the ground. I assumed the reason was so they did not get their school uniforms dirty in the red, clay-like dirt. Mary explained that many of these girls were not wearing panties, and were not able to get on the ground out of modesty.
These children live in a nearby slum, and if they own any underwear at all, it might only be one pair. When families struggle to provide clean water and food for their children’s tummies, and have fled their war-torn homeland with only the clothes on their backs, underwear is a luxury.
I had first visited Kenya nine months earlier, and had talked extensively with teachers and a school counselor about the struggles girls in western Kenya face every day. They said the biggest need was for sanitary pads. So many girls are unable to attend school during their periods because they do not have access to sanitary supplies. Girls resort to using mud, leaves, twigs, rocks, or tearing up their favorite t-shirt to be able to attend school – and even more don’t have anything to use, so they stay home. After missing so many classes over the years, many girls will fall behind and eventually drop out of school. The cycle of an education cut short, poverty, and oppression continues. This has to end with us – and now that we know about it – we can stop it. We can’t stand by and watch these precious girls with unlimited potential give up their hopes and dreams for the future because of their monthly periods.
We started working with a local Kenyan seamstress named Stella to make washable/reusable sanitary pads for girls in need, and she was also willing to teach girls how to sew in her shop after school and on weekends so we can teach them valuable job skills, while also meeting the largest need facing girls in this community. We had ordered sixty handmade purses from Stella to take home with us and sell – with all of the proceeds going to provide girls with pads. Each purse is only $25, but will provide FIVE GIRLS with all of the sanitary pads they will need for an ENTIRE YEAR!
The need is so overwhelming. We don’t want to just stop this wheel of oppression – we want to break it.
I video chatted with our Fearless and Female self-defense instructor Cindy Coughenhour that night. I told her about Judisa, and how the girls were unable to get on the ground in her school, and in the other three schools that I had visited so far on this trip. I tried to hold back the tears as I described the fear in their eyes when Judisa asked about being attacked by more than one man. I told her about the little girl who had recently been attacked in the forrest bordering the school.
The girls couldn’t practice protecting themselves on the ground because they do not have underwear. They need to learn these defensive skills because they are being attacked on the way to school. They stay home from school because they don’t have sanitary pads to use during their periods. If they stay home from school, they can’t break free from poverty. They cannot use the pads we’re providing them if they do not have panties. We encountered the very same need at every school we visited during our two weeks in Kenya. Girls need underwear, sanitary pads, and to know how to defend themselves. Another complicated cycle was rising up in front of us, and there was one commonality – our girls need underwear.
Cindy couldn’t sleep that night, and was up thinking about our problem. She turned on the television and saw Heather Thomson (of Bravo TV’s Real Housewives of New York) in a commercial. That gave Cindy an idea, so she found the Yummie by Heather Thomson Facebook page and sent her a message pouring out her heart about what Kelsey and I were seeing in Kenya. Cindy later told me that she didn’t expect anything to come from her letter, so she was shocked when she received a reply. Heather and her assistant Remembrance had told Tasc Performance about our story, and they had boxes of panties in their warehouse that they would send us for our girls in Kenya! We learned that Tasc Performance is an eco-conscious clothing company that makes their clothes out of bamboo, for a comfortable feel and, as their website says, “performs without chemical enhancements.”
Cindy gave me the wonderful news the night before we started our journey back to America. I was speechless. Their generosity and willingness to help change these lives was overwhelming! This time I fought back tears of joy – knowing that I wasn’t even home yet, and already our girls were being loved and cared for by people on the other side of the world!
Five boxes of underwear arrived from Tasc Performace less than 48 hours after we arrived back home! They sent 166 pairs of bikini briefs for our girls in Kenya, and because they are just that wonderful, they sent over 500 pairs of thong underwear for us to donate to shelters and free clothing pantries for women in need in our own Wichita, Kansas community!
I continue to be blown away by the wonderful things that happen when people work together! The stories of our girls inspired Tasc Performace, and Tasc Performance has inspired us here at SheHopes! The world is full of caring people – and so many times we want to help, but we don’t know how.
My eleven-year-old son started a toy drive where he collected over 300 stuffed animals for the children of Kenya and India. A group of Girl Scouts raised enough money to provide a school in a Kenyan slum with 425 meals. An author gave his books and love of Shakespeare to schools in Kenya. A Wichita hairdresser is launching her own underwear drive – where she’ll offer incentives to her clients to bring in packages of underwear. We are selling the beautiful purses that Stella the seamstress made, and the proceeds will provide girls with the sanitary pads they need for an entire year. For now we’re talking, planning, and dreaming about how we can reach even more girls. Every little bit helps, and together we can spread life, light, and HOPE around the world.
We will continue to be a voice for Judisa and for all of the girls and women we meet on our travels. Sometimes HOPE begins with a pair of underwear. Doing good really is simple – we only need to start.
I’ll never forget the way she felt in my arms. The mother handed her to me, and the baby lay limp against my shoulder, her dark hair was soft and wispy against my neck. She was so tiny.
The mom sat down in a nearby chair, and I motioned to give her daughter back, but she smiled and waved her hands in a way to say for me to keep holding her little one. I walked around the front of the room, trying to use my broken language phrases to greet and thank everyone for welcoming us to their church service. I glanced up at the mother, and I could tell that she was talking about me with her four other daughters who were waving and smiling at me.
I looked down, and saw that the baby had the longest lashes and biggest brown eyes I had ever seen. She was the little one I had heard so much about, the youngest of six children. My Indian friend Joy knew them, and had told me the news when she was born. The parents were from a lower caste, illiterate, and unable to provide for the children they already had – two of them living in a local orphanage. The girls still saw their parents occasionally, but had been given up to have a chance at a better life.
When I arrived in India only a few days before, I had learned something that shattered my heart. Because the parents were unable to provide for their children, this mother was trying to sell her baby – the baby I was now holding.
I looked again at the baby’s mother, and I was puzzled by the look in her eyes. I walked over, and tried to hand give her back. She motioned for me to keep holding her baby, and spoke rapidly to me. My friend came over to help translate, and that’s when I learned why the mother had given me her baby to hold.
“She wants you to take the baby home with you. She wants you to give her a better life,” my friend explained. I looked again at the mother, and that’s when I saw it. What her eyes were saying did not need translating. Take her. Love her. Please. Heart to heart, mommy to mommy, the blinders fell away from my eyes. I saw that she was doing the very best she could for her family. She loved her family so much that she was willing to do what she had to do to provide for them – even if that meant selling one child to provide for the others, or giving her to a stranger in hopes that she one would have a better life with me in America.
I wished with all my heart that I could take this baby girl home with me. I had three growing boys waiting for me back in Kansas, and they have always prayed for a baby sister, but I knew I had to give her back. I asked Joy to explain to the mother that I couldn’t legally do as she asked. I nuzzled the baby’s soft head one more time, and handed her back to her mother. “I’m so sorry,” I said in English as I turned to go, willing myself not to cry – not just yet.
Our group was rushed out of the church and to the waiting car to take us back to where we were staying. I somehow managed to hold it together until I was alone in my room…and then I broke. I called my husband and cried. He tried to comfort me over the phone, but I couldn’t shake the memory of the mother’s pleading eyes and the way the baby had felt in my arms.
I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but it is actually a far too common story. Mothers who live in the slums and villages we visit in Kenya are sometimes faced with the agonizing choice of watching their children starve, or trafficking one of the children to save the rest of the family. We recently heard about another Indian mother who sold her baby, a single mother who could not provide for her children, only to change her mind the next day. She went looking for the people who bought her child, wanting to give back the money, but there was no trace of them or her baby. They had vanished, and she was heartbroken.
On our travels last year, I also met an amazing woman named Christine. She started a dried fish stand outside her house in Kenya. The look of pride and accomplishment on her face and in how she carried herself was evident. She had something deep inside that the other women were missing. She was providing for her family, and she had HOPE.
I think of that baby girl in my arms, and she inspires me daily. No parent should ever have to choose between watching their children starve, and selling their little ones. Women and girls all over the world need just a flicker of hope. They need someone to come alongside them, listen to their stories, and show them that they are not alone.
SheHopes is committed to providing women with job training and helping girls stay in school. We currently have sewing classes taking place in India, where women come three days a week to learn so they can stand on their own. We want to give women and girls around the world the tools and opportunities to provide for themselves financially. Sometimes hope looks like a sewing machine, a fish stand, and knowing that you are not alone.
I had to give her back, but my wish for for that precious baby girl is that she will never have to know a world without hope.
Have you ever wondered how you could make a difference in the world? Click on the photo below. All it takes is a single spark, and YOU can give the gift of hope TODAY!
I am the owner of my own business, and the mother of three children.
I have been in this industry for over twenty years. If you were to ask me why I feel so passionately about my craft, I would have to tell you simply that I get to change lives through hairdressing. I have had the privilege of sharing in some of my guests’ happiest days, and unfortunately in some of the saddest. You can make someone feel amazing about themselves by just changing their hair. Sometimes changing the color of a woman’s hair can give her the confidence she needs to go out and take on the day. As hairstylists, we touch lives.
Early on, my family saw my love of hairstyling even before I realized it in myself. Growing up, we went through some pretty rough years. There were times when I did not know if there was enough food to eat, if we would have running water, or even where I was going to stay. My father told me, “You need to have a trade, Jen. You can go anywhere if you have a skill.” Because of his advice, I always had hope that things would get better. Hope is a powerful thing.
When I learned about SheHopes, I heard the stories of women and girls around the world who need the opportunity to learn a skill, just like I did. Right now we are developing training videos for women in Kenya and India to use as they learn the hairstyling as well. What a wonderful opportunity! If I can share my love of hairdressing with others, and give them hope by teaching them a skill, who knows what they can accomplish!
After reading about the needs of schoolgirls in Kenya, we had to do something. We can’t just let our little sisters around the world miss out on a chance to learn at school because they don’t have sanitary pads and underwear! We’re going to fix that.
That’s why Vivian and I are have exciting news for our Forever After Studio client family! During the month of May, we are collecting underwear to be given to these precious girls! Clients who bring in packages of new underwear, (3T toddler sizes through adult sizes), will be given a voucher for 15% off at their next appointment – good for all services (hair, nails, and waxing)! Everyone who donates will be entered in a drawing for a beautiful handmade purse from Kenya!
We can’t do everything, we can all do a little something to help – and if we work together, we really can change the world!
Life, light, & HOPE,
Jen Gordon – Forever After Studio
2243 N. Tyler Rd. Wichita, Kansas 67205