Mrs. Opot aka Mathe, which means “mother” in Sheng (common slang spoken in Kenya) is the reason we have a project in Kenya. I met her in 2000 as the actual mother of my dear friend Joab. I would see her periodically, over the years, while she was visiting her children in the US. Years later (2007) the Opot Family approached me to help them open a home for children in Kenya. There was a building on Mathe’s land that wasn’t being used, but needed some serious renovation. Mathe donated a plot of her family’s land with the building and we set to work to make it a home. Her nephew, Patrick Lumumba who is a certified nurse and midwife came on board and we built our team. Mathe, Patrick, and I are the three Managing Directors of the James Christopher Opot Children’s Centre (JCO). Mathe was a full-time teacher in Nairobi for 33 years and raised 6 wonderful children of her own. She now cares for our 16 children on a daily basis, in addition to anyone in need around her. Her living room is a never-ending stream of people coming for food, advice, or a listening ear. She is always involved in community betterment projects (i.e. bringing water to the village and economic development). She is a respected elder at her church and in her village. She is a very strong woman. She is a “force to be reckoned with”, yet she possesses such a kind heart--a “mother’s” heart-- for everyone. I am always amazed at how she never seems to tire; she is always ready to welcome someone else.
I feel very blessed to have spent so much time in Sirembe. Since 2007 I have been able to go almost bi-annually and spend months at a time, under the constant care of my Kenyan mother. When I come to visit, Mathe and I sit there for hours each night just talking, over the light of a kerosene lamp. During my first visit to Sirembe, she showed me around, taking me to meet people in many different homes. It meant so much for me to be welcomed into their homes and to begin to understand more about Luo culture. At the same time, it meant so much to these people that we would want to come and spend time with them in their homes. It helped to bridge so many gaps without even trying.
She is a mother, a constant mother to everyone, but it is more than that. She has an innate generosity that is deep and abiding. There is such ease to it, I see people coming to her literally begging, but she never makes them feel that way. She helps them in a respectful manner—ensuring their dignity remains in tact. She makes it seem as if she isn’t doing anything, like it is the most normal thing in the world. As if it is a necessity and not just an act of kindness. Her constant compassion is an ideal that I agree with, but seeing her apply it day in and day out is awe-inspiring. It is what I would call “living generosity” and I continue to learn from her example every day.
Although Patrick and I bring our ideas to the table and sometimes we are right, the one thing I have learned over the years is that it's generally a good idea to defer to her wisdom. Because after all Mathe knows best.