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Youth Action International is a non-governmental organization that uses grassroots techniques to develop and implement programs that help alleviate the suffering of children affected by war or living in difficult circumstances, empower them to reach their full potential, and break cycles of violence and poverty.

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Surrounded by Angels

estherI’ve been thinking about what to write since I came back from Liberia.  I am from Spain and English is my fourth language – I also speak Spanish, Italian, and Catalan.  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.  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 – but I could not.  I knew some one was there waiting for my call.  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.  I asked him to  help me create a pen-pal program  between inner city youth from the US and young soldiers from Liberia, Uganda, and Sierra Leone in order to awake society’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.  Kimme loved the idea, “That sounds like a great project, I would love to see more!”  That email was the beginning of the journey.  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.  The experience was absolutely amazing!  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.  I never could have imagined what I was about to experience.  Ever since I was a teenager I have dreamed of visiting Africa, and now, with almost forty years behind me, my dream was realized.  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 – 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.  I was excited!  I was nervous! I was happy! I was sad… I was curious… I was shocked.  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 – 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.  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.  All of the beautiful faces, the singing, and the smiling… I felt like we were in heaven, surrounded by Angels.  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.  Next, I met Jessie, a brave fourteen year old who, after living   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.  Then I met a blind seventeen year old young man named George Kimmie.  Even with his eyes closed he can see the love and kindness in others.  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.  They showed me so much love, and taught me so much about the importance of strength and courage.  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.  He is now helping other former children soldiers go through rehabilitation to become better individuals, both for themselves and for their communities.  The stories that the former children soldiers shared with us will always stay deep inside me – the suffering that they experienced is unimaginable.  No child in the world should ever go though what they were forced to.  I am deeply grateful that they are now a part of my life.  

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. 

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.  I am committed to sending resources to Mama Doris and the children in Tema so they can keep attending school.  I am committed to helping Morris and his organization in any way I can so he can continue to help former children soldiers.  And I am committed to Kimmie Weeks cause for opening his world to my world.

To all of you, my Liberian family,

Esther Rodriguez-Brown