The story of Imara International begins with our executive director, Carol Erickson. From an early age, Carol was drawn to care for orphans.
When I was about 10, news broke in the United States about the gross mistreatment of orphans in what was then the USSR. In church, we watched a video of the Romanian orphanages and how babies were dying from lack of human touch. This broke my 10-year-old heart and that day God whispered a dream in my heart that still echoes there today. Promptly after the service, I asked my mom to put me on a plane to Romania. No orphaned baby should die due to lack of touch if I was available to hold her. (Of course, my mother did not send me to Romania!)
In 2006, Carol heard Bono speak about Africa at a prayer conference. He spoke about disease (specifically AIDS), hunger and genocide. “To be honest,” said Carol, “these things scared me to death. After the event, my friend and I were discussing all that Bono had said. In my head I was thinking, ‘Thank God I’m called to Eastern Europe.’ Out loud I said, ‘I am never going to Africa unless I am on a five-star tour of the Serengeti.’ All I have to say is be very careful about what you tell God you are never going to do!”
Soon after hearing Bono speak, Carol went on her first trip to Kenya, the first of several mission trips to a girls’ boarding school there. Then Carol realized that God was calling her in another direction.
“Often in Kenya,” said Carol, “young women do not have the opportunity to finish school. When this happens a cycle of poverty begins. They can’t get a job, they get pregnant, and they are forced to do what no one should have to do to stay alive. Due to lack of education and employable skills these girls are destined to a life filled with abuse, violence and poverty. During my trips to Kenya I noticed a gap. What happens to these teenaged girls and how can we help them?”
Thus the idea for Imara International was born. (Imara is a Swahili name for girls meaning “strong” or “resolute.”)
Imara International is creating a training center that gives teenage moms a chance to learn vocational skills and finish their high school educations. While they are working and learning, their children will be cared for in an early childhood center. The goal is to eventually have this program completely run by Kenyans.