In the words of Rev. Stan Chu llo of Canadian Samaritans for Africa “I spent time with the women [at the Center]. I listened to them and can simply say that these are amazing women. They do not want to claim that they are victims; they simply need some support to change their condition and that of their children and grand children”.
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Mama Rose puts her faith in action to create hope among the despair
The Kenyan city of Mombasa is an ancient metropolis that bears the marks of its long history as a melting pot of civilizations, religions, cultures, races and nationalities. It is the gateway to East Africa and the coastal city of choice for many tourists from Asia, Europe and North America.
A bustling city, Mombasa is a model of diversity and multiculturalism where minarets of mosques and towers of churches rise above the city. Many residents are awakened in the morning by the sonoric call to prayer from the muezzin or the booming music from megaphones mounted on rooftops of flourishing evangelical churches.
Mombasa also offers a sad reminder that most African cities have lost their innocence. There is a flourishing sex trade and a burgeoning gay culture.
I was brought to this historic city through a long-standing partnership between the Canadian Samaritans for Africa and the African social agency Crisis Centre for Carers.
In Mombasa, one sees the beauty and ugliness of a modern African city. Despite the prosperity visible throughout the city that is evident by luxury cars and modern homes, there is a rising tide of social problems which fuel violence, loss of family values and poverty. One is often touched by how the lines of poverty and wealth intersect, and how the pristine peace and beautiful climate of this city of many islands can easily be disrupted by violence, road accident or armed robbery. But, overall, most people get on well with each other and seem happy living in this city of over half a million people.
For the past five years, Canadian Samaritans for Africa has supported many children born with disability or who lost their parents to HIV. We have also provided seed money to encourage income-generating ventures for more than 70 widows and some widowers who lost partners to HIV. Through these initiatives I have seen not only the power of human courage but the connection between faith and hope.
I also witnessed the potential to make changes in a community and in people’s lives through simple acts of selfless love. This is personified in the ministry of the leader of this Crisis Centre, Rose Ochieng.
Commonly known as Mama Rose, Ochieng, 59, is a trained nurse who once worked at a communicable disease centre. There she encountered single women, widows and orphaned girls who were forced into sex work because of poverty. The plight of these women touched her and spurred her to open Crisis Centre for Carers, a community based organization that offers comfort, hope, love and psychological support.
Mama Rose has dedicated her life to serving the poor and vulnerable women and children of Mombasa, especially those who lost husbands to HIV and those suffering from this disease. She undertook training in psycho-social support ministry, legal aid and community development to equip her to become a voice of voiceless women. She describes herself as a widow by chance and by choice, meaning she lost her husband to heart disease but has chosen to live a single life so as to be totally dedicated to the service of women.
Mama Rose lives a humble life, a life of Jesus, as I call it. Material things are the least of her worries. She receives no salary. Occasionally she receives some financial support from our group or from the local church. She lives in a modest one-bedroom house and has no car, so she fulfills her ministry in the scorching heat either by foot or by tuku tuku (tricycle), a popular mode of transportation in Mombasa. Her ministry entails daily visits to about 10 women, covering about four kilometres by foot.
There is no discrimination in her centre. It was heartening that a Muslim widow who has become self sufficient after receiving assistance told me that “Mama Rose is an angel who has shown me that true religion is all about selfless love.” I met a great hero in Mama Rose.
Her last words to me before I boarded a bus to Nairobi were: “Mdugu Stan (our brother Stan) be strong in the Lord. Faith has given me a reason to live and a reason to love people the way Jesus loves me.” These wise words touched the bottom of my heart.
Mama Rose puts her faith in action by loving the poor, creating hope in the midst of despair and helping to give new life to people who are in the valleys.
She shows them that beyond the shadows of gloom and brokenness, life is still worth living if we bring our faith to life and our life to faith.
(Fr. Stan Chu Ilo’s book, Discover Your Divine Investment, is published by Catholic Register Books and is available