Iâ€™ve been thinking about what to write since I came back from Liberia. Â I am from Spain and English is my fourth language – I also speak Spanish, Italian, and Catalan.Â So as you can imagine, it took me forever to put all my thoughts in order in English.
My name is Esther Rodriguez-Brown. My husband, Michael, and I are the founders of The Embracing Project, a non profit organization we created to educate inner city youth about the similarities between genocide and gang activity. Â One purpose of this journey is to expose inner city youth to the experiences of children soldiers in different parts of the world and then to create a pen-pal relationship between both groups.
After writing hundreds of emails to many different organizations requesting help and receiving none, I was almost ready to give up â€“ but I could not. Â I knew some one was there waiting for my call. Â Finally, somebody gave me Kimmie Weeks information and I immediately sent him an email explaining The Embracing Project and the link between children soldiers and young gang members.Â I asked him to Â help me create a pen-pal program Â between inner city youth from the US and young soldiers from Liberia, Uganda, and Sierra Leone in order to awake societyâ€™s conscience and to help other youths also in dire need of a friendly embrace.
I sent the email on March 19, 2007, and nine days later on March 28 I received a response.Â Kimme loved the idea, â€œThat sounds like a great project, I would love to see more!â€ Â That email was the beginning of the journey. Â In August 2008, I finally met Kimmie face to face. I made the trip out to Liberia to see first-hand what he is doing for the world. Â The experience was absolutely amazing! Â I met wonderful people who have made the commitment to help children in that region of the world, where NECESSITY is written in capital letters.Â I never could have imagined what I was about to experience. Â Ever since I was a teenager I have dreamed of visiting Africa, and now, with almost forty years behind me, my dream was realized. Â It is never too late to do what your heart wishes.
As we arrived at Monrovia airport, I saw United Nations planes and tanks parked all around and it hit me â€“ we were landing in a post war country. My heart was beating like a drum and my emotions were in a freefall on a roller coaster. Â I was excited!Â I was nervous! I was happy! I was sadâ€¦ I was curiousâ€¦ I was shocked.Â The trip from the airport to the capital was an adventure in itself.
When you finally get into Monrovia, your entire mind, body, and soul awakens to a separate reality â€“ the smells, the noise, the colors, the energy, everything is different. I loved it.
After staying a couple of days in Monrovia, Kimmie took us to Temas. Â I have never in my life felt so welcome, even when I return to Spain, and my family is waiting for me at the airport. Â All of the beautiful faces, the singing, and the smilingâ€¦ I felt like we were in heaven, surrounded by Angels. Â I met Mama Doris, a courageous woman who put her home and her family at the disposition of hundreds of children who have become orphans due to war. Â Next, I met Jessie, a brave fourteen year old who, after living Â Â in the streets with an injured arm and leg for eight months, is now going to school and having fun with his brothers and sisters. Â Then I met a blind seventeen year old young man named George Kimmie.Â Even with his eyes closed he can see the love and kindness in others.Â A few other amazing people I met were Momo, Yatta, Varney, Jenebah, Seensee, Rebecca, Amos, Isaac, and over 50 others who will always be with me in my heart. Â They showed me so much love, and taught me so much about the importance of strength and courage. Â I will always be grateful for this experience.
Morris, a former child soldier, was kidnapped when he was only thirteen years old and forced to carry a gun and kill.Â He is now helping other former children soldiers go through rehabilitation to become better individuals, both for themselves and for their communities. Â The stories that the former children soldiers shared with us will always stay deep inside me â€“ the suffering that they experienced is unimaginable. Â No child in the world should ever go though what they were forced to. Â I am deeply grateful that they are now a part of my life. Â
I felt like I was at home in Liberia; people are so full of joy, so full of life, and so grateful to be alive that is an inspiration to anybody who has the opportunity to go there.Â
I am committed to returning every year with a group of inner city youth from the US and a group of volunteers to help wherever we can. Â I am committed to sending resources to Mama Doris and the children in Tema so they can keep attending school. Â I am committed to helping Morris and his organization in any way I can so he can continue to help former children soldiers.Â And I am committed to Kimmie Weeks cause for opening his world to my world.
To all of you, my Liberian family,