The Moment Dignity Emerges

Last fall, hundreds of Zoe Empowers children in Kenya donated their personal earnings to fund a new empowerment group in Malawi. Pamela and John were among those who gave to the effort. Chosen by their Zoe Empowers peers, they would travel to Malawi as the Kenyan representatives to visit their newly funded empowerment group named, Together We Can.

At the same time, it was decided that I, along with the Zoe Empowers storytelling team, would join Pamela and John in Malawi when they meet their group for the first time. For more than a decade, I’ve listened to children tell stories of how they have overcome the toughest of circumstances. I honestly thought I knew what to expect. I would later discover the enormity of this particular trip to Malawi with Pamela and John. The impact was nothing that I expected.

Like any other trip, the U.S. and Malawi staff began preparations for the scheduled visit. John and Pamela applied for their Kenyan passports, the hotel rooms were booked, transportation was reserved, and plane tickets were purchased. Before long, the travel day had arrived.

I landed in Malawi, along with our photographer Kara, and writer Katie. The first thing on the agenda was to visit the Together We Can group supported by the children in Kenya. We pulled up in our van to a large group of smiling children who were excited to meet us. I was told Pamela and John would arrive soon. As I waited with the children, I could not help but look into the eyes of each child in this extraordinary group, and as I did, the gravity of what I was about to witness began to settle in.

Only a few short years ago, Pamela and John battled to survive each day. They were isolated from their community and had lost hope in their future. They were just like the children in the group they were minutes away from meeting. Today, they are not only Zoe Empowers graduates, but they are also Zoe Empowers donors. I tried to imagine their reactions when they are greeted by the children, given they have always been on the other side, welcoming visitors from America for the Kenya Zoe Empowers program.

I watched in the background while Pamela and John, along with Kenya facilitator Mercy, arrived. They emerged from the van as dozens of children wearing Zoe Empowers t-shirts sang and danced, welcoming them to Malawi. It was an incredible moment to witness.

Pamela and John were like any other traveler with cell phones held high trying to capture the event on video to share with friends back in Kenya. John tried as hard as he could to play it cool, but he could not contain the massive smile permanently etched on his face. He eventually gave up and soaked in the moment with pure joy. The visit was incredible in every way possible. Read about their group visit here.

Soon we were all driving to our hotel for check-in followed by dinner in the dining hall. At the hotel, we were assigned individual cottage-style rooms with our doors facing each other in a cluster. John and Pamela seemed quiet and honestly a bit confused. I was not sure if they had everything they needed or if they were just tired from the long day of travel. They eventually joined us for dinner but chose a different table, leaving us with three empty chairs. Once again, they seemed a bit confused when we invited them to sit at our table.

The next morning, I shared coffee with Mercy, the Kenyan facilitator, who accompanied John and Pamela to Malawi. I asked her how the kids were doing because they seemed a little quiet when I tried to talk with them. She gave me some insight by joyfully sharing, “They are overwhelmed and shocked that they are being treated as donors. They did not expect that.” She went on to say, “They thought they would be staying in the village with one of the children and never dreamed they would be staying at the same hotel as the Americans. They told me they do not believe they are sleeping in the same type of hotel room as Tina, who is Zoe Empowers U.S. staff. They are shocked to be eating the same food, the same snacks, and riding in the same transportation as the Americans.”

I was speechless and trying to process the statement, “They do not believe they are sleeping in the same type of hotel room as…me”.

Mercy continued, “This will be incredible news in Kenya and will spread throughout the program. Tina, I am telling you, the children in Kenya will also be shocked. This will raise their status and change how all the children in the program view themselves.”

Again, I was speechless. It never occurred to me that Pamela and John would expect to join us in Malawi as anyone other than who they are – donors who generously partner with an empowerment group. Even more so, I never expected this to be something that would change the way thousands of children would view themselves in Kenya.

I think back to the moment when John tried to contain his smile as dozens of children greeted him with song and dance. At the time, I thought he was trying to play it cool, but it was actually something entirely different. I was witnessing the physical expression of transformative dignity when it emerges for everyone to see. True dignity. It cannot be contained. It cannot be hidden. It manifests in such a way that the world has no choice but to take notice.

We ended our trip with some group photos. I motioned for Pamela and John to ask if I could take a picture with them. They made their way over to me, strutting with pride and laughter, saying, “Tina wants a photo with us! The DONORS.”

The sense of pride they felt to be called a Zoe Empowers donor has changed me. It is an honor that most of us take for granted. The children in Kenya tell me they give because they were inspired by their American partners who give to children they have never met.

The 100,000+ children served through the Zoe Empowers program give back to their community in ways that are impossible to measure. They are survivors of the direst of circumstances while living in hopeless poverty, yet they found the strength to conquer it with the help of partners like you to become self-sufficient. They have ended the cycle of poverty for the next generation. It is an incredible achievement in and of itself. Yet, they do not stop there. Instead, they generously give. To me, Pamela and John, along with all the children in the Zoe Empowers program, are more than donors, they are heroes.

Join Pamela, John and all the Zoe Empowers children who believe empowerment is the answer to end poverty.

Learn More

Pamela video-taping her empowerment group


Pamela and John meeting their Empowerment Group.




Pamela and John at Suki’s shop


Pamela purchasing a bag from Jester


Dinner at the hotel


Zoe Empowers storytelling team, Katie, Tina and Kara


Mercy, Zoe Empowers Kenya facilitator, Pamela and John


John sitting on Edward’s new motorbike


Edward sharing his helmet with John


John and Edward

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