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A Tale of Two Meal Programs (and an excuse to share a story about my dad)

Annie Phillips

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Dear Friends,

I would like to tell you a story about my dad.

Last year, Jane (the manager of the co-op in Rwanda) told me that the ladies were coming to work hungry.   They were earning enough money to feed their children, but they were not taking the time to prepare meals for themselves during the work day.   Plus, food is not free, and they are moms.  So whenever the money was tight and it was a choice between feeding their families and feeding themselves; it was no choice at all.    

So they were hungry and they didn't have much energy at work.  Jane and I talked about how much it would cost to provide lunch for the women 5 days a week for one month.  She said we could do porridge for all 24 women for $50 per month, or we could supplement with meat and vegetables a few days a week for $100 a month.  Let that sink in.  We could provide 480 lunch meals a month for $100.  We could provide 5,760 lunch meals for $1200 for the entire year, for all of 2018.  

I asked my dad if he would pray with me for this need.   I don't know whether he pondered and prayed or not.  I do know that a few hours later he handed me a check that would provide 5,760 lunches for a group of 24 women in Kigali, Rwanda.  

So for all of last year, I would send $100 each month, and the ladies enjoyed lunch together. They took a break from their work and prepared a meal together and sat and ate together.   Is there anything better for community-building than sharing a meal?   

At the end of the year, I shared some photos with my dad and thanked him for feeding my friends.  I told him we were going to keep going with the meal program, but that I didn't think it would be difficult for me to fund-raise. He didn't bat an eye and wrote me another check for 2019.  By January of 2019, the co-op's size had decreased due to some women leaving to find work elsewhere and due to some women being voted out of the co-op for breaking the rules.  (After 8 years of working together as a co-op and 5 years of working with me and Jane, this has happened occasionally and wasn't too shocking of a thing).  And a smaller co-op came with its own gifts.  One of those gifts was that we could stretch our resources further for the remaining women.  So Jane and I chatted, and she did a little math.  She figured out that for the same $100 per month, they could all eat breakfast AND lunch every workday.  So that's what we have been doing for the last 6 months. My dad has sponsored 3,920 meals in 2019.

Visitors to the co-op have remarked about how healthy the ladies look. Their eyes are bright. Their skin glows.  Their bonds of friendship have strengthened.  They have had true challenges this year, and their courage and resolve and character has been tested.  I like to think that the meal program and the community it helped foster played a part in the strength they have shown in rising to meet each challenge that has come their way this year.

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And now my dad, whom I adore with my whole heart, is sick.  He is a renowned oncologist, and now he has cancer.  As the daughter of an oncologist, I have hated cancer in a general way since I was quite young.  And I hate that my dad now has this disease.   Cancer is a brutal adversary.  But my dad is tough.  And we choose hope.  We choose hope. We choose hope in Rwanda, and we choose hope here.  The ladies in Kigali have been faithful prayer warriors for my family for nearly 6 years now.  Jane told me last week that she prays for my dad as she would pray for her own father if he were sick.  My dad has fed her friends and co-workers.  He has faithfully prayed for this co-op for 6 years, too.   

And something beautiful has been happening the last couple of weeks, while my dad battles cancer.  While my community in Rwanda prays for him and asks me every few days how he is doing, my dad's community in Houston has rallied around him and my mom.  Their Houston community has been bringing us meals.  We're a household of 7 right now, so these lovely friends have their work cut out for them when they bring us a meal.   I have cooked only one pot of soup in the last 2 weeks.  And we have another couple weeks of meals' worth of food from friends in the freezer. What a gift it has been to be on the receiving end of meals.  

What a gift it is to be on the receiving end of love. Friendship is not to be underestimated.

Final thought: There have been SO VERY MANY of you who have kept two small businesses afloat for 6 years- both the one in Rwanda and the one in the US. I have been remiss in writing about most of the kindnesses you have shown and the miracles I have witnessed. But facing down a season of change and cancer has a way of refining things and reminding me of the value of reflection and of giving witness to the stories I want to remember.   Thanks for indulging me in this story, friend.    

Prayers for my dad on this journey are appreciated. His name is Steve.  And while you're at it, my mom (Jan) wouldn't object to a few prayers on her behalf either. 

Love,
Annie

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