Monday, December 28, 2015

Experiencing Christmas as a Child Once Again!

I remember my first Christmas without my grandma. I sobbed. Every christmas tradition was like ripping a bandaid off over and over again. The church service, the cheese fondu, staying up late and waking up early–nothing was the same without her. Prior to that year, it had been the same traditions year after year, I knew nothing else, and there was nothing I loved more. But suddenly the absense of one made it all seem different. And so for the first time in my life, at seventeen years of age, it suddenly felt like Christmas would never be the same again.

Looking back, I am so grateful for the many Christmases I had with my grandmother and grandfather-- and my entire family for that matter. The magic of Christmas as a child is forever etched in my memory: waking up before the crack of dawn, running down the stairs to embrace the beauty of Christmas lights, a tree and a decorated fireplace, and excited beyond belief to rip into the mountain of gifts under the tree. Sometimes I feel like the reason families in the West buy so many presents for their kids is simply to make the magic stretch a little longer and so they can enjoy their children's wide-eyed excitement for a few more minutes.

These past two Christmases (read about last year's Christmas here) that we have spent in Mozambique, I have enjoyed celebrations unlike any other. (Afterall, what could be more different than 40°C weather in December and extreme heat in exhange of the cold!) Celebrating Christmas with our girls is like getting to experience Christmas as a child again and again. And so, just like when I was a child, I woke up before the crack of dawn again this year excited beyond belief to celebrate with our girls. My sister claims it is a crime for anyone over the age of twelve to wake up before 9am on Christmas morning–I couldn't disagree more! Each girl received a beautiful new outfit, new shoes, and napsak (school bag or rucksack depending on which part of the world you're from) full of toys and activities. Nothing quite compares to the Christmas spirit that fills the air as our girls run joyfully to receive their present.

For months the girls have been asking us if we would be spending Christmas with them. “Of course!” I responded, we live here, where else would we rather be. But one by one, as they continued to ask me whether we would be here this year or not, I began to realise why. You see, our girls don't have a grandmother like I did to come and spend Christmas with them nor a mother or father to make family traditions–they have us. And though I will never get to celebrate Christmas with my grandmother again and we've missed two years with our families in Canada, I am so grateful for the role they played in my christmases as a child and for the role we now get to play in our girls lives.

To all of you who made this Christmas possible through your prayers and continuing generosity. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. I hope this short video will help capture some of the magic you made possible from oceans away!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!

With love,

Natasha & Evan (+71 beautiful girls!)

Ps. Our girls were overwhelmed with excitement with their gifts this Christmas, but one of them came up to me on Christmas day to remind me of her desire to learn, "I want to read," she said. If you would like to help fulfill this special Christmas wish in making an end of year donation (tax receit for 2015), please read My Grown-Up Christmas List for information on how to give to our literacy program and help a child learn to read in 2016. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

My Grown Up Christmas Wish

This year I am asking for something far bigger than a man on a sleigh could ever carry. I want something so much greater than one person could ever accomplish. This Christmas I am dreaming and praying for something big.

My Grown Up Christmas List:

Evan laughed when he saw my list posted on the fridge. "I don't think I'll be able to buy you those things this year, honey." And he's right, he alone cannot provide the better future for our beautiful Mozambican girls that I so long for. He cannot reduce the spread of HIV, break the cycle of poverty or win the fight against malnutrition. He cannot provide clean water to all of Mozambique. He cannot empower a nation with hope and joy.

There are many things neither Evan or I can do. But there are many ways that we can play our part in all of these. Sometimes I feel like we are throwing drops in the ocean, but then I look at one of the faces of our girls who stops me in my busyness of running to and fro, just to give me a hug.

...and suddenly I remember that EVERY DROP COUNTS and that the entire ocean is made up of LITTLE DROPS.

So as we press forward in shameless ambition to break the cycle of poverty and hope for a better future for the lives of our treasured girls, we're going to take a physical step forward and start tackling illiteracy. When we arrived in August 2014 to be dorm parents at the Zimpeto Children Centre (a temporary safe care centre for orphans and vulnerable children in need of crisis intervention), we were overwhelmed by the poor literacy skills of our girls.

For your average child in Mozambique, school is a nightmare: large class sizes of 60+ students, teacher absenteeism, poor teacher training, and lack of learning materials just to name a few. For many of our girls, the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, often limited by early malnutrition that hindered their development, lack of family or support, past abuse and trauma, and various chronic medical conditions such as HIV, surviving your daily life is a challenge; school is a ring of fire all on its own that many simple cannot withstand. Sitting in large classrooms when you can not read or write just reinforces the lie that you are stupid, worthless and will never amount to anything.

But I for one, refuse to let my girls believe this lie. I, along with the team of Canadians who stand behind us, will choose to stand in the gap--the gap of illiteracy.

Last year I began a literacy program for 16 of our girls between the ages of 10-15 who had never learnt how to read. I worked along side a wonderful Mozambican Woman who met with the girls Monday to Friday in groups of four girls at a time, for forty minutes each. At the begining of the year, many of them could not even read "Ba Be Bi Bo Bu," now they are proudly reading books. They can't wait to show me just how much they've improved during our library times. These girls are the one banging at my door asking me for more books to read. Their confidence levels and self-esteem has soared and it's having an undeniable impact on their schooling experience. And the girls love the program. One day the tutor was late and the girls started asking me, "is our tutor coming?" "She's on her way, she was at the hospital," I replied. "YES!" exclaimed one of my more mischievous girls. "Excuse-me," I echoed back appalled at her rudeness, "you're happy she was sick at the hospital?!" "No! I am happy because the literacy program wasn't cancelled!" she boldly yelled back certainly putting me in my place.

I know that by simply starting with learning how to read, their life can have a drastically different outcome. I believe learning how to read is one of the first steps in joining the generation that will reduce the spread of HIV, fight malnutrition, raise healthy families and break out of the cycle of poverty.

For those 16 girls who have been a part of the literacy program this past year, I believe they have received one of the greatest opportunities in their often short-changed lives. But there remains a problem-I have over 70 girls, not just 16. In fact, I remember last year when I was trying to select the weakest of the weak for the program. I felt horrible, I only had 16 spaces to fill and so many more girls that desperately needed to be a part of the program. I felt the weight of their worlds and futures on my shoulders. But I made a promise to myself that this was just the begining. That those not choosen during year one would not be lost or forgotten. And so, this year, this is our chance.

In 2016 we want to hire more Mozambicans to work along side us running our after-school literacy program. Our hope is to hire at least three more tutors, each to work with 16 children per day in groups of 4 for 40 minute blocks. So many of our girls under ten were excluded from the program last year as we prioritized the girls who were already falling so far behind in school and without additional support-would never learn how to read. This year, I am so desparate to get our little ones involved in the program.

As a former elementary school teacher in Ontario, I saw parents bend over backwards for their kids to learn how to read and the gratitude they showed as I taught their children. It was as though nothing could come between them and their child's success. They would go to the furthest degree to ask for additional supports, resources, and materials for their child. And now, as a dorm mom to over seventy girls, it is my turn to both say thank you and to ask for your prayers.

Firstly, thank you to our amazing team of Canadians who stand by us in prayer and through monthly financial support. Our organisation is entirely volunteer based, and many thanks goes out to your generosity for having sent two elementary school teachers to love and support the nation of Mozambique. Some of your monthly financial support over 2015 has gone towards this program over the past year. We can't do it without you and I only wish I could truly express with words the gratitude I feel everytime I think of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving us the opportunity to fall in love with each of these little girls over and over again.

Secondly, we ask for your help. Would you please join us in prayer as we trust God for the $5400 it will take to fund this program over this next year. If you are already a part of our monthly prayer and financial support team, would you consider sharing this link on facebook, your church or other friends who might be interested in this endeavour. We are estimating that the cost to hire three more tutors and provide a small snack to our kids in the program is about $150 per teacher of 16 children per month. Or, just over $100 for each child to learn to read over the year. Perhaps you're still trying to think of a gift for that special someone on your christmas list, why not make a donation on their behalf. You can even receive a tax receipt for 2015 charitable giving.

How to Give:
1. By cheque to Iris Ministries Canada, please attach a separate note saying,"Zimpeto Literacy Program". Please send to: Iris Ministries Canada: 10-1425 Abbeywood Drive, Oakville, ON  L6M 3R3
2. Click on the Donate now button on the right hand side of the screen, select "Zimpeto, Mozambique-Ministry Projects" and MAKE SURE to write "Literacy Program" in the comments box.
If you have any questions about giving or about the literacy program, please do not hesitate to email me at

We believe that with love as a drive and education as a tool, we can see hope and a future for our girls. Please join us.