Remembering Your Roots
Sifa Nsengimana is an influential Human Rights Activist and one of the founders of the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, a residential community in Rwanda that helps to enable orphaned and vulnerable children to become socially responsible citizens in Rwanda and around the world.
“Mom, you’re definitely the coolest aaand bestest mom ever. I mean, ever!”
My fourteen-year-old daughter has been repeating these words a lot lately. I didn’t expect to hear them (if at all) until she was a mom herself! My mother has been the most influential woman in my life, but I didn’t think of her as ‘cool’ until I saw how hard it is to raise responsible citizens (read: serious discipline) and still maintain the smooth and open-minded attitude that will prevent –you dare hope- a generational world war. But I have two kids; she had eleven. So she definitely was –is- a cool mom who defied the odds in Goma, Eastern Congo.
She was way too cool when she reminded me that poverty is only a station in life’s journey (unless one decides to make it their state of mind). Even when I was carried home from school as an eight year old that passed out from hunger in class, if I complained, she might just smile as she repeated “education my child, plus kindness and a humble heart, will save you from this”. The lessons she most regularly spanked into my malnourished frame were hard work, self-respect and integrity. “Die if you must, but die with integrity”. (All that because I tried to get away with chores poorly executed and said I’d die of fatigue if I started over).
Whether as a mom, a wife, an activist, or a non-profit executive, hard work, self-respect and integrity make me successful. Being better today than I was yesterday, raising the bar higher each time. It sounds cliché, but success doesn’t happen if you compare yourself to others. I measure, but I don’t compare. When I feel complacent in my achievements, I measure myself against Sojourner Truth, Mother Theresa or Wangari Maathai, and get right back to work. When I feel too blessed (can you imagine?), I picture what I could accomplish with Oprah’s blessings, and soon enough I feel unfulfilled. Then I think of the homeless mother in New York or Sudan who is smart, capable, and willing to work, and yet destitute, truly unfulfilled. All of these women, and a dozen other, are my role models.
Esther. Not just because she saved her Jewish people from extermination, but because when I was fourteen years old, I realized that no amount of effort or education could bring success unless God was in the picture. As I got baptized, I wanted to be used like Esther to make life better for other people. Wanna know my middle name?