Her eyes are like a map of hardship. You can feel her struggle engraved in them. When ELIESH laughs, the pain is replaced by joyful abandon. But it is her quiet smile that communicates that you are with someone who can overcome anything. She is remarkably thin and yet she emanates a comforting warmth and a mighty strength.
Eliesh has 6 children. Saying she raised them on her own is an understatement. She embodies the unstoppable will of a mother who will sacrifice everything, down to the soles of her feet, to offer her children a life of promise.
Her husband died one month after she gave birth to their 6th child. He died of Malaria. He was sick for less than a week. On the 6th day, she awoke before dawn and found him dead. There was little time to process grief. Life got hard quickly when severe poverty came banging on their door. She was now the only provider.
Eliesh found work at a flower factory. The job paid $30 per month. The problem was the bus fare to the factory was $1 each way. She quickly learned that transportation would leave her in a deficit. So she walked. It took her 3 hours to walk to work and another 3 hours to walk home. She left at 5am and returned by 8pm. She risked her safety to feed her children. Within two weeks, she had worn the soles of her shoes to nothing.
The effort wasn’t enough. There were so many nights her children went to bed hungry. She says that the hollow look in their eyes will forever be a scar on her heart. Her community segregated and rejected them because of their decline into poverty. It wasn’t a far way to fall to begin with. It was just more noticeable because they were alone. On rainy nights, she would gather the children and they would huddle together at the corner of their home. The edges of the roof of their house had no holes. The center of their roof was full of them. On some mornings after a rainy night, the center of their house would be flooded and her children would be asleep leaning against the wall.
People blamed her. As if her husband dying from Malaria, a disease caused by a mosquito bite, was some sort of curse she conjured. “How could anyone believe that?” she asks. Her loneliness magnified but so did her determination. “When you only have yourself and your faith, you quickly learn to wipe yourself off and get back up again.”
She made a deal to sell other people’s bananas at market. She would earn about $0.65 per bushel sold. But she competed against so many others, many times she went home having sold nothing. Nothing wasn’t an option for Eliesh.
When Save the Rain came to her village, she felt like she could finally see a way out. She had already proven she would do and could do anything for her kids. She came to the training and worked as hard as she could. There were so many women wanting, needing this work. Giving up wasn’t an option for her.
Eliesh was hired by Save the Rain and her first paycheck was enough to get new roofing sheets. One of the women she works with helped her install them. No one sleeps leaning up against the walls anymore. Her home is dry and no one is ever hungry. She emanates joy when she shares that. She also finds a deep sense of belonging as she now has a family in Save the Rain. The women she works with will always be there for her and she will always be there for them. The code of their sisterhood is their shared strength to overcome.
She says, “I cannot believe that I have two children in secondary school and that I earn enough money to pay those fees.” She laughs a hearty laugh that seems too big for her small frame.
Her laughter subsides and the flecks of her pain are visible again. “ It’s been a long road to get here.” She pauses and looks away. “I feel like the life I was meant for has finally arrived. I knew I could get here and I did.” The pain in her eyes is replaced with pride. “If I can do it, anyone can.”