Elizabeth Sumwabe was a Liberian woman whose strength and determination have left a powerful legacy at Amani ya Juu.
In the 1990s, Amani’s founder Becky Chinchen was a close friend of Elizabeth’s before fleeing Liberia as a refugee herself. Elizabeth was a hard worker–a mother who worked tirelessly to provide for her children. Above all else she was a woman of faith and integrity.
Elizabeth was separated from her children when they traveled to visit their grandmother during a school break, just as the Liberian civil war broke out. Their grandmother lived behind what had become “enemy lines.” Distraught, Elizabeth was separated from her five beautiful children living in a war zone.
Elizabeth tried everything she could imagine to get messages to her children. She inquired with every traveler but could not learn their whereabouts or be assured of their safety. At times, the silence would overwhelm her. She spent months planning schemes to find them.
One day, heavy with her sixth child, she decided to make a move. Since she could not travel within the country, she made her way out of Liberia and through three bordering countries–Ivory Coast, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Often, she traveled by foot. Other times she was on a loaded truck, car, or wherever she could find a seat, finally re-entering Liberia at a border point near her children.
After days of searching, Elizabeth found her children living on the opposite side of a heavily-guarded river. She could draw no closer for fear of losing her life. Late in the night, the children silently slipped across the water in a dugout canoe. After months of anguished separation, Elizabeth looked at each child, barely recognizable even to their own mother. They had taken refuge from the fighting in the forest, surviving only on berries and roots. The children knew the strength of their mother and had never given up hope of being reunited with her again.
Elizabeth returned with her children by the same circuitous route she had taken to find them, eventually reuniting with the rest of the family in Ivory Coast, where she and her husband had fled as refugees. Weary from fatigue and hunger Elizabeth went into labor with her sixth child. Tragically, neither Elizabeth nor the child lived from lack of proper care.
Elizabeth modeled determination, strength, perseverance and deep trust in God. She spent herself to the point of death, extending her hand to the young and the helpless. Elizabeth only completed a fourth grade education, but she taught us life’s greatest lesson: the inestimable value of living selflessly for others.
Judy is a Kenyan woman who came to Amani ya Juu in 2001 at the end of painful recovery process from a stroke that affected her ability to walk and to work. She emerged from isolation through the trusting friends she met at Amani. Judy has taken on leadership in Amani’s Procurement Department. She oversees the purchasing of all raw materials for Amani products.
Through the Judy is also Elizabeth Sumwabe Scholarship Fund, Judy is currently studying a diploma course in management, majoring in purchasing and supplies.
Judy’s studies are building on her strength and fortitude to give her skills for the future: “My studies have opened my mind to have confidence in what I am doing. I want to make a difference in someone’s life, to make someone’s life better. God loves people more than anything, and I desire to work together with Him to help others experience His love–be it in a small or a big way.”
The Elizabeth Sumwabe Scholarship Fund is a special education support initiative at Amani ya Juu established to honor Elizabeth’s life and courage. Scholarships are given to women who live with integrity, who persevere in the face of adversity, who give selflessly of themselves, and who are driven by their faith in God.
Through donor support, Amani partners with these staff members and trainees to share the cost of education for women who show particular interest in continuing education. Amani seeks out those who have grown in their particular work area and are keen to improve their skills and knowledge but have financial constraints. The scholarship pays for tuition and any exam fees, while students are responsible for transportation, books and any other costs associated with their education.