Helping a Destitute Woman Start a New Life

By Sally Johnston

Sally Johnston explains how she, a friend, and a group of women were able to make a difference in the lives of another woman and her children.

In Tanzania, I worked with a volunteer organization called Cross Cultural Solutions. It was a wonderful and spiritual experience for me. Each morning I would start my day with prayer and reading my Bible Lesson. I would know that this was God's day and that we were all the children of God. Then I would just go out and be that child of God. What was so wonderful about this was that it was so natural and effortless. Instead of trying to be a child of God, I simply was a child of God. This feeling and expression came by simply loving.

The only way I know to explain it is with a metaphor. Let's say that God is the sun, and I am a vessel which the sun (God) shines through as rays (or expressions of God). The clearer my vessel is, the more Godlike is my expression. Most days at home, I feel like I am this opaque vessel with holes through which the rays of God come through, but in Africa, I felt like I was a clear, pure vessel with God shining all through me. In other words I was the purest expression of the child of God that I had ever experienced, and this came by simply living and being love.

During my time there, I taught English to a group of women with AIDS. We also visited the sick women at their homes, taking sugar to them and just generally supporting them. On Fridays, we were included in their AIDS support group, which consisted of about 30 women. One time, we took sugar on a home visit to a woman with AIDS who had four children. Her husband had beaten and deserted her, and she and her children were hungry. In fact, most of the women I worked with had been beaten regularly and deserted by their husbands once the husbands found out their wife had AIDS.

About four weeks later, this woman came to the support group and told the other women that she needed help. Aside from having no food, her husband was now coming back and beating and abusing their daughter, who was 15 or 16. She had gone to the police, but they wouldn't do anything. Her family said she could come stay with them, but she couldn't bring her children with her. They believed that her children had the husband's bad blood. At this point, there were no options open to her.

The women all went around and talked about how they could help. These women were all very poor, but they each agreed to contribute what would be a dollar to us. That was a tremendous amount for them. It was wonderful to see these women come forward and support this woman. After that, I asked them what she really needed. They told me that she really needed to relocate her home and restart a business.

The other CCS volunteer and I wanted to help this woman. She had had a farming business and was able to sell her products on the side. The women thought they could protect her at the other end of the city because they knew the police there. But she needed a couple of month's rent so she could move and start her business. My friend and I were able to give her the necessary $250.00, which was not much to us. As a result, her life and the lives of her four children changed.

The process was interesting to me. Even though her need was great, I didn't feel impelled to give money right away. I've learned that you have to be careful about whom you help. The Africans have a name for white tourists; they call us "mugdos," which means rich white person. They look to us, expecting money because in their eyes, we are rich. I didn't want to give money just to give money. But when I saw how the other women responded to her need, I was moved to tears and wanted to help. What they gave was huge to them, as they had nothing. It was their desire to help that showed me that it takes the whole village and a friend to make a difference.