“Smiiile,” I urged, looking through my camera’s viewfinder. “Be happy…you’re having a baby!”

Her facial muscles twitched for a moment, then settled back into a somber stare.

I knew the day’s task was going to take a bit of work, since many Kenyans aren’t accustomed to showing emotion in photos, let alone a smile. But this mom-to-be proved to be a particularly tough sell.

I held the shutter button halfway down, at the ready with proper focus and exposure. All I needed was that split second when her shields dropped and a grin spread across her face…that decisive “moment” photographers are always blathering about.

I waited, and kept waiting until the awkwardness was felt by all, but that magic moment never came. So I tried to persuade her again, this time with a little more urgency and feigned enthusiasm.

“Come ooon, just a quick smile,” I said cheerfully, hoping my frustration wasn’t showing. “Think about your new baby!”

Once more, her face gave a gangly spasm, resembling a grimace more than anything. She quickly returned to her stoic demeanor. The only message I could glean from her expression was that she was having none of it and wished the whole experience over and done with.

Winnie on the day of the interview.

Finally, Gideon, my Kenyan comrade who’s wise beyond his 18 years, spoke to her in Swahili. I assumed he was repeating my innocuous request.

She answered back in a hushed tone, but I detected a definite undercurrent of determination.

“She says she’s not in a frame of mind to smile,” Gideon translated back to me.

I took the odd statement to mean that I should take what photo I could get and let the young lady be on her way, so that’s what I did, though still a bit confused.

After all, this was the day we were starting Tumaini Clinic’s new “Adopt-A-Mama” campaign, and these photos just might help this mom-to-be! She could at least show some appreciation and reciprocate with a little effort of her own.

No sooner did she grab her things and head out the clinic door then Gideon turned to me and asked me to have a seat.

“There’s a reason she didn’t want to smile,” he explained. “During the interview, we had a very difficult time. When we asked her (the question) about her hopes for the baby, she started crying.”

Instantly, I felt like the fool I often am. How could I have been so thoughtless? So insensitive? And mere weeks into my time here, no less?!

Instinctively, I already knew the essence of the story he prepared to tell.

The side profile of her growing twins.

28-year-old Winnie Wanjera is desperately searching for hope in a hopeless situation. She’s single, pregnant with twins and struggling for mere survival.

She has no job, and relies solely on the generosity of relatives, who give her handouts when they’re able. For the past month or so, she’s been staying with a cousin in a single room house made of metal siding, with no electricity and no toilet. Rent is around eight dollars a month. Her cousin also has two children living with them, and they all call the dangerous slum of Korogocho their home.

The move to her cousin’s place was prompted by a falling out Winnie had with her boyfriend, the father-to-be who left her soon after they found out she’s carrying twins. She would have ended the pregnancy when she had the chance, but she couldn’t afford it.

The children in her womb represent nothing positive, and she’s dreading their arrival, unsure what the future will hold, for them or her.

“Smiiile! Be happy, you’re having babies!” A fool, indeed…

With little more than a solemn expression, Winnie gave me a healthy dose of reality, and to my surprise, I was long overdue.

Truth be told, I’ve gotten “used to” working at the clinic. I’ve gotten used to tiptoeing my way along a winding trail of nauseating waste every day to get to work (video of that daily delight coming soon). I’ve grown accustomed to the sights and smells that accompany a medical clinic in the slums of Nairobi. And I’ve learned the general composition of the people who live there.

Cecilia, right, talks with Winnie two days after her first interview. It had also been Cecilia’s first interview for the “Adopt-a-Mama” campaign, and it was her arms wrapped around Winnie by the end of it.

One thing about international travel is that your mind tries to assimilate as soon as possible. Thus, the heightened stress levels of life outside the comfort zone can subside quickly, as you gain a certain sense of normalcy. That’s also why people often recommend writing down all first impressions and fascinating details as soon as you arrive in a new location. By mental necessity, most of the novelty wears off in a matter of days.

But as I sat on the bench listening to Gideon describe Winnie’s story, the magnitude of Tumaini Clinic’s mission came flooding back to me. She’s the very reason the clinic was started. She’s the very reason I’m here.

Tumaini is Swahili for “hope,” and that’s the heart of the clinic’s mission. Its motto is “Light Bringing Hope,” and that’s exactly what the clinic does.

The initial interview with Winnie ended with sobbing and tears, as she struggled to find footing amid a desperate situation. But the arms of a young clinic staffer were soon wrapped around her, and encouraging words followed.

A familiar face stopped by the clinic the next morning, along with her cousin. I recognized her, but it took a second to register. Winnie had a broad smile, and she hardly looked like the same person. She spoke to Gideon, who greeted her warmly at the front entrance. He told me to come over as well, and I did. Smiling politely, I shook her hand and returned to my work.

The difference a day makes.

“Why are you giving me this attention?” she asked him. “Because I cried yesterday?”

“No,” he replied, “because we care about you and your babies.”

She told him how her visit the day before had transformed her, that when she walked out of that interview room, she felt a glimmer of hope for the first time.

Just another day at Tumaini Clinic…the Light Bringing Hope, despite the surrounding darkness.

(UPDATE: Three days later, a nurse called me into the ultrasound room to witness my first sonogram. She was excited to show me twins. Little did she know, they were Winnie’s twins, and I had the privilege to see them both. Winnie was still beaming, and now thanking God she’s been blessed with two. I suspect this may not be the last we see of her, or the babies.)

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Next Steps
    • How often do we project our own agendas and assumptions onto others, without giving their perspective a second thought? In reality, they may be struggling with far more than we can see on the surface, like deep wounds, hidden pains and heavy burdens. For Winnie, the breakthrough came when someone stopped and listened to her. So slow down, listen and learn this week!
    • Begin thinking about Tumaini’s upcoming “Adopt-a-Mama” campaign, which I will be detailing down the road. The long of the short…for 60 bucks, you can provide an impoverished mama with all medical costs associated with the arrival of their baby, from prenatal visits to the birth to the early immunizations. It’s truly life changing.
    • Keep the modest staff of Tumaini in your prayers. They operate the clinic 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Their work is vital and unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed, but they’re not superhuman. They need strength, resilience, determination and fortitude to do their jobs, just like anyone else. And prayerful support and encouragement always helps.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Stephen Crane is a year-long fellow with World Next Door. He has a bachelor's degree in theology from Calvin College and a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University. He has a passion for overlooked places and people and would snowboard at all times if it were possible!

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Comments

  1. Pam said... 

    Reply

    July 4th, 2011 at 7:28 am  

    Every time I’ve seen a new WND article I haven’t opened it right away. I just realized that that’s because I’ve cried while reading every one of them. Maybe that’s the first step. Stephen, this article is beautiful. Looking forward to learning more and hearing how Winnie is progressing with her little ones…

  2. Jo Nading said... 

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    July 4th, 2011 at 4:14 pm  

    Stephen, your honesty and transparency always moves me. I must say I was SO happy to hear the “rest” of this story. I admit being sad that Winnie could not find a way to smile – I’m thinking most Americans would find a way to fake smile for a picture – but that made me realize all the more how desperate Winnie’s situation is. And then that makes Tumaini even that much more special. God is working so powerfully through that clinic – and the Holy Spirit is moving and hearts are being transformed…like Winnie. How very cool that you get to see this first hand.

    Praying for your continued open heart and mind to learning all kinds of things that simply are not available to learn here in our life of luxury. And keep sharing so we, back here, can read all about it.

    Can’t wait to hear about the birth of these two beautiful babes, Winnie’s love and acceptance of them, and what her future holds.

  3. Darla said... 

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    July 4th, 2011 at 9:52 pm  

    Stephen, you are never insensitive. You were just what Winnie needed because you gave her light and hope. I could actually hear your voice encouraging her to smile!

  4. Rob Yonan said... 

    Reply

    July 6th, 2011 at 10:29 am  

    Wow and that part about assimilating as soon as we enter a culture helps put words to ways I’ve coped with trips in the past!
    Thanks for walking through the filth to write about the hope.

  5. Ceri said... 

    Reply

    July 6th, 2011 at 4:32 pm  

    I wonder what Winnie would say today if she were asked what she hopes for her children? The dose of hope that i’m sure she received from you just taking the time to listen to her story is reflected in her smiling eyes.

  6. Kagz said... 

    Reply

    July 13th, 2011 at 4:37 pm  

    I really enjoy reading your articles,you have really captured it all but just for some minor adjustments.how bout u also write bout the great stuff that we have here in rongah,like our beautiful restaurants n hotels that overlook the game park,our dam and water conservation that even has crocs in it,our vast majority of universities that offer govt funded education to the less fortunate n last bt not least sme nice fotoz of our souped up matatus that the youth enjoy travelling in.you know rongai is mo of a ghetto n the pple here also hv stuff to make life bearable n would like the world to know that its not all about life being hard and in despair,we love our home just as much as everyone else…ooh n dont forget nyama choma.keep up the goodwork.

  7. Roxi Scully said... 

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    July 14th, 2011 at 12:33 am  

    Stephen, I admire you for the courage and strength it takes each day as you walk thru the slums of Nairobi to work in the Tumaini Clinic. Your presence and those of the other staff workers give hope to these young woman when no one else can. Your article was truly inspiring. I look forward to reading more about Winnie. What a blessing that she is smiling now!! I am keeping you in my prayers.

  8. Laura Stump said... 

    Reply

    July 14th, 2011 at 2:43 am  

    Stephen, this is beautiful! I keep hearing women lament new pregnancies and babies in Kibera for reasons similar to Winnie’s. I’m encouraged that Tumaini is caring for women in this very vulnerable time of their lives. Thanks for sharing this.

  9. Blake said... 

    Reply

    July 18th, 2011 at 10:48 am  

    Wow, I remember when we found out we were having twins, and all the fears we had. They pale in comparison. I look forward to hearing updates on Winnie. I will be praying for her and her twins. Do they know if they are identical (boys?/girls?)

  10. Jim and Elizabeth said... 

    Reply

    July 24th, 2011 at 8:50 pm  

    We loved the article. So thankful to receive them.
    We thank the Lord that He has gifted you in your writings – big time.
    Know this experience is growing you in all kinds of ways and know you are a blessing to those there.

  11. Cathy Storms said... 

    Reply

    August 12th, 2011 at 12:05 pm  

    Loved this article about Winnie and her angels. Praying for them each day. She has courage and now hope from the clinic and you. Thank you Stephen.

  12. Fred said... 

    Reply

    October 7th, 2011 at 5:26 am  

    Sometimes we fail to see the world from other people’s perspective. Just because I would be excited to expect a baby, doesn’t mean the other person is. I think this is a very crucial lesson Steve is teaching us here that; sometimes all you need to do is offer a shoulder for someone to cry on……

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