Mama Rose is a friend of mine. She’s 73 years old, I’m 35. She’s 100 percent Cherokee Native American; I’m about 1/6 Cherokee Native American. We both grew up on the East Coast. Mama Rose didn’t finish high school; I have a Ph.D. I live inside a nice, warm condo in New Orleans; Mama Rose doesn’t. We became friends three years ago when she came to my church on a Monday morning to have breakfast and take a break from the streets. Our story, however, starts a year before that … but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Women just like Mama Rose live in your community too – and many of them care for children who are also consid- ered high risk for things like war, natural disaster, poverty, maternal health/infant mortality, educational accessibility, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. While these things consis- tently threaten all of the world’s population, statistically, women and children make up the poorest of the poor in populations worldwide and are affected in unique ways. So what’s being done to help them? More importantly, to echo the cry of the prophet Micah, “What does the LORD require of you?” (Micah 6:8, NASB).
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “About one in four Americans living with HIV are women. And African American women are most affected. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for African American women aged 25 to 34.” The National Poverty Center, a research center for non-partisan public policy at the University of Michigan, states, “Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic. In 2008, 28.7 percent of households headed by single women were poor, while 13.8 percent of households headed by single men and 5.5 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty.”
The realities are no less stark outside the United States. In 2000, the United Nations identified worldwide issues that must be addressed in order to eradicate world poverty. They’re called the Millennium Development Goals. Five of these eight goals specifically relate to taking care of the world’s women and children. These goals seek to: end world hunger and poverty, offer universal education, promote gender equality, improve child health, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, achieve environmental sustainability, and work toward global partnership.
WOMEN, CHILDREN, AND EDUCATION
Today more than 70 million children aren’t in school. Of that number, half are out of school because they live in conflict-affected regions of the world. The World Bank, an organization that offers financial and technical assistance for developing countries, reports that about 55 percent of those out of school are girls. Interestingly, educational availability and accessibility are among the key indicators for making gains in the millennium goals. Dr. J.E. Kwegyir Aggrey, an educational visionary, said, “The surest way to keep a people down is to educate men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family.”
Research shows that education is crucial for addressing the realities of poverty in a long-term sense, both inside and outside the United States. Due to culturally assigned roles and responsibilities, girls often care for sick family members, and are sometimes not able to attend school. This is especially true in places where the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a harsh reality of everyday life. Also, conflict and war take the lives of men engaged in geopolitical turmoil, leaving women and children to survive on their own.
WHAT WE CAN DO
But what does all of this mean for the lives of women and children around the world? It means that getting a glimpse of who they are is both simple and complex. I believe the challenge for us is to learn to connect to, be aware of, and be concerned for those around us; and to know and do the things that express compassion, kindness, and love to people who are both close to us and far away.
To begin getting to know the women and children of the world, become educated about global realities like world hunger and HIV/AIDS. Read books about fascinating stories of child survivors of war like A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. Educate yourself on the work of international humanitarian and missions agencies. But also, get to know the women and children of your community. Pursue opportunities in your neighborhood to give your time and energy to people who live close to you.
The Bible says that Jesus was Immanuel, God with us, and it also says we were created in His image. Amazingly, God created us to need relationships with Him and our fellow human beings. Therefore, we can dream of ways to spend our time, money, and effort. How can we best connect with and enrich the lives of women and children close to us and far away? What might God have us study to prepare to help others? The possibilities are literally endless. We should make the most of every opportunity God offers, here in the United States and around the world.
THE ROLE OF FRIENDSHIP
A year before I met Mama Rose, I heard about her from other homeless friends through a ministry of my church. Every Monday we opened our doors and bathrooms to people who live on the street so they can rest, get cleaned up, and share a meal. Often during those times, I heard them tell stories about Mama Rose. She was infamous on the streets of New Orleans, having lived there for almost 30 years. She was equally infamous for her dislike of Christians. All I knew to do was pray for this woman I’d never met.
During that year God started working in her heart, and she started coming on Mondays. Eventually, we became friends … real friends. She prays for me, and I pray for her. She worries about me when I’m sick or traveling, and I worry about her living on the street. I always check on her when I ride my bike downtown, and one year she gave me a watch for my birthday. And, through her, I’ve started understanding what James meant when he said, “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27).
Trish Hawley lives in New Orleans where she enjoys getting to know women and children from many backgrounds and all walks of life.