My heroes are people I can hug.  They are normal people who might live right down the street from you in a little two-bedroom house or live in a hut on the other side of the world. I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite heroes: Amina, the refugee.

Amina started her journey from war-torn Somalia towards the Dedaab Refugee Camp with her husband, four children, and a small herd of goats.  Because of the warring factions in Somalia, the drought in the Horn of Africa turned into a famine.  To stay was certain death for her entire family either from starvation or murderous rebels. Three months later she arrived in the world’s largest refugee camp in Dedaab, Kenya, with no husband and only two children.

Amina and her clan are called pastoralists because of their nomadic lifestyle looking for green pastures upon which to graze their goats, cattle, sheep, or camels.  Their homes are tents made of goatskin or cloth.

Amina’s husband had been abducted and executed by Al Shebaab. Groups like Al Shebaab use hunger as a weapon. She found others with whom to travel for protection.  They would sell a goat and travel as far as they could with the proceeds. Then they would sell another goat.  Finally, they found the bus with which the United Nations High Commission on Refugees patrolled the porous Somalia/Kenya border.  The bus was sent from Dedaab because the fifty-mile stretch from the Somali border had turned into what some call, “visions of hell.”

Like other refugees who make life or death journeys, the horrors along the way are literally hell on earth. Two of her children grew weak and were close to death, but they had to keep moving. So she laid her children in a makeshift shelter or covered them with branches. She hoped to get far enough away she couldn’t hear the cries of the children dying or the wild animals devouring them.

The life Amina will live in the refugee camp holds very little hope other than the sustenance of food. Eighty-five percent of the refugees are women and children- the men have been killed or abducted. She will most likely be raped- repeatedly.  Her daughters will be forced before puberty to have female genital mutilation with rusted knives, broken glass, or sharp rocks. Her daughters won’t be educated- only a few of the boys will find hope through education.

She was given 21 days of food rations to make the decision to become labeled a “refugee.” A term they hate, but find necessary to survive. After 21 days, she will give up many of her rights just to get food.

Firewood for cooking will be a huge issue.  She, along with the other women, will be sent to gather it. If the men go, they will be killed or maimed. So the women go, knowing they will most likely be raped, but their lives will be spared.

She had nothing left except her two children and the clothes on their backs. But she had her faith. She said God would take care of her.

She also had a small community of people whom she trusted based on survival. They shared as they traveled based upon a Swahili saying:  Maanta waa aniga, berina waa adiga -Today it’s me; tomorrow it’s you. It would be like me sharing with you today if I have food, because tomorrow I might not have food and I will need you to share with me.  Community is based on survival.

 I am a theologian by education and profession for twenty years, but I confess I am more inspired by the faith of the impoverished than I am through any theologian.  I have met thousands of the world’s poorest people and find their faith inspiring.  Faith gives them the ability to interpret their circumstances and suffering in a positive light.  Perhaps the strongest component of faith within the community of the poor is a belief in a better life-after-death. Listen to the songs of the American slaves that are full of hope for a Promised Land.  Religion is not the opiate of the hungry masses; it’s their only hope.

 I stopped my neighbor recently and said, “Maanta waa aniga, berina waa adiga -Today it’s me; tomorrow it’s you.” I gave him the combination to my garage door and told him if he ever ran out of food, he was welcome to raid my fridge and freezer.  I also told him I expected him to return the favor. He asked if I was on medication or needed to be!

We base community in the U.S. on shared beliefs and values.  A hundred years ago, Little House on the Prairie people learned to live with each other in a small geographic region. However, because of transportation opportunities, we now choose our communities based on stylistic, socio-economic, and shared value systems. People think nothing of driving 30 miles to attend a faith community.

But for the impoverished, sharing is based upon survival; we base community on convenience.

I often think of Amina and wonder how she and her children are doing.  Her simple faith and dependence on others influences the way I approach almost all difficult situations in my life.

 This blog is from my book, Hunger Bites: Bite Size Stories of Inspiration. You can order it on Kindle or in paperback by clicking on the book.  If you would like inspirational stories like this delivered to your email on Tuesday and Friday of each week, please hit the “sign up for my blog” button on the left. 

And always feel free to email me:  I’d love to hear about your heroes.