When I was growing up, my mother was a magician with money. She was very good at robbing Peter to pay Paul and keep us going. She was also a giver, always making sure we had what we needed with little extras now and then. She was a walking welfare provider for her students, home helpers, neighbors, relatives, and church members. No one ever felt belittled, an object of charity. They were just grateful.
Ruth Miheso is a woman of that same ilk. Born in western Kenya in a small village, she grew up and married a Quaker pastor, Bartholomew, who fed his family working in manufacturing and mining. They had ten children so Ruth ran a nursery school and had a licensed stall at the town market. She took care of her family, but like my mother, she was a giver. Her gentle manner led others to share their troubles and their needs. Where she could, she shared a little here, a little there. It was what their family did.
Bartholomew became a leader in the large Quaker community in Kenya and was tapped for leadership in Quaker organizations nationally and internationally. In 2003 after retirement, he came to the United States and spent a year at Pendle Hill, a Quaker study center near Philadelphia and spoke at yearly meetings, conferences, and gatherings. He stayed in the US in the Washington, DC area, worked as a pastor and as a security guard, sending money home to Ruth as he was able. She took care of the family but continued to use a little here, a little there to help others, especially widows and orphans, She listened to their stories and saw their daily needs. She was their safety net.
In 2008, Ruth came to join Bartholomew, got a job taking care of children, but still helped the widows and orphans in her home village of Magada. Some were Quakers, most were not. It wasn’t easy sending money to Kenya. They found an “angel” there to distribute the funds, but there were dangers for this helper and for the recipients. The need was so great and jealousies could arise, money could be taken, people harmed. Ruth and Bartholomew truly believed that God is good and that way would open. They found Adelphi Friends Meeting (AFM) in Adelphi, Maryland, a Quaker community where they could worship and share their lives. Some members at AFM welcomed them, heard their story, and came together to create a non-profit, The Cornstalk Project. (Cornstalk is the translation of the name of their village, Magada.) Supported by AFM, donations, and proceeds from their annual African-oriented dinner, the project has paid school fees, repaired a widow’s roof, helped some elderly women with daily food and health needs, bought a sewing machine to generate income, and contributed to job training for a young adult.
The little here, the little there has grown. Ruth, with Bartholomew’s support, was the original giver. She has opened the possibility for others to join her, to widen their Quaker circle, and to form a bond with women and children, listening to their stories and being “with” though thousands of miles away. You can help. Go to the website, The Cornstalk Project.org, to see more stories and/or donate.
- Read or tell “The Widow’s Mite” and/or “The Good Samaritan.” Have the children share or create a modern version they can write as a story or dramatize as a short play. Talk about why people give to others. Ask them to look back at the stories and share the nature of the giver and the receivers.
- With older children, talk about the saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” How do they feel about that? How would there be a giver if there were no receiver? How can they be both a cheerful giver and a cheerful receiver?
- Build empathy by talking about the meaning of “walking in someone else’s shoes.”
- Talk about possible class projects to reach out to someone who has a need. After exploring options, decide on an activity the class can do and implement it.