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Church backs ministry to meet needs of Anuak widows and orphans

To assist Anuak widows and orphans, who are victims of genocide, HIV and AIDS, and poverty, First Presbyterian Church formed the Anuak Meer (Love) Ministry. 

Mary Frankhauser, a member who helped organize the ministry, said they have moved slowly, working with organizations in Gambella, such as Partners in Africa, which will offer sponsorships so children can receive family-based care, educational support, Christian nurture, counseling and medical care.

anuak meer
Carolyn Holmes, Ariet Oman and Alock Nyigow form symbol of Anuak Meer Ministry with their hands.

Ariet Oman and Alock Nyigow, two Anuak women involved in the ministry, said part of healing from the massacre will come by keeping children with their mothers or placing them in families, where they can ask questions and talk about what happened to their fathers or parents.

The work of Anuak Meer Ministry complements that of Anuak Baare Hope, which is building an orphanage, because both approaches are needed.

The Anuak Meer Ministry hopes to provide scholarships and small business microfinance loans for women to make traditional baskets out of local grasses.

Alock and Ariet formed the ministry with Carolyn Holmes and about 20 others at First Presbyterian. 

Alock, Karlene Arguinchona—a physician—Debbie Stimpson—a physician’s assistant trained in HIV and AIDS care—Carolyn and her physician-husband, Ed, will visit Gambella Feb. 7 to 20.

In preparation, Ed attended a conference on microfinance.

First Presbyterian sponsored the Anuak when they arrived in Spokane as refugees in the 1990s.

“Over the years, our church has come to know Ariet, Alock, Agwa, Akway and Achol, and to care about what was happening to the people, particularly since the genocide,” Mary said. 

Alock came to Florida in 1996 and to Spokane in 1997.  She had left Ethiopia in 1993 because her husband, who worked with the governor of Gambella, was killed in 1991.  She works at the Sacred Heart Medical Center laundry and as a caregiver at Harbor Glen.

Knowing what it is to be widowed, she said, “I know God sent me here to help.  Now I need to go back there to help my people.”

In 2004, she and Carolyn went to Addis Ababa to visit Alock’s parents. There, they formed a partnership with church leaders to bring baskets woven by Gambella women to the United States to sell, so the women can earn a living.

“At home, women do not have a voice.  As a U.S. citizen, I have a responsibility to speak,” Alock said.  “It’s good God sent me away so people here can hear what is happening and how they can help the widows and children.” 

Ariet came to Spokane in 1989, having left Ethiopia in 1986.  She, too, has gained confidence to speak out.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in business at Eastern Washington University, and works at Bank of America and the Waterford retirement residence.

Because her mother died in childbirth and no one wanted to take care of Ariet, she was almost buried alive with her mother.

“I was told later that as they put gravel and dirt in the grave, a woman grabbed me and ran to Pokwo, the Village of Life, and gave me to Marie Lusted, a Presbyterian missionary and nurse.

“Marie gave me to a woman whose five babies died at birth,” Ariet said.  “I went to school in a culture that does not encourage women to go to school.  Most drop out in grade school and marry.”

After high school, she went into business making local wine, hoping to save gold to go to college.  Eventually, she fled Ethiopia and went into Sudan, where she was in the bush for four months, until she came to the United States.

“When I first arrived, I was shy and didn’t speak much. I knew little English.  I came to Spokane, thinking I was going to Minnesota, where most Anuak were resettled,” said Ariet.

She completed studies at the Adult Education Center.  The first of her daughters, Gilo Taka, 16, was born her last day of class.  Her second, Abang Taka, is now 13.

Knowing Gambella’s culture and now living in Spokane, she hopes to be a bridge between women in the two cities.

“I hope to help Anuak women know what the outside world has to offer and urge them to forgive so they are not bitter toward those who killed their fathers, husbands and brothers.  Our ministry is about peace and love.”

Carolyn said people in First Presbyterian Church care about and pray for the people there. 

“We can’t change what happened, but we can try to prevent it from happening again,” pointed out Carolyn, who had tried to go to Gambella in 2005, but could not go because of violence and a disputed election.

The logo for the Anuak Meer Ministry is hands together in prayer with fingers and thumbs touching to form a heart.

“We are ‘nyiwara,’ daughters of the same Father—children of God regardless of our shape, color, height or different educational or social status,” said Ariet.

In that spirit, the Anuak Meer Ministry’s brochure quotes Psalm 146:9, saying God “protects the foreigners among us, cares for the orphans and widows, and frustrates the plans of the wicked.”

For information, call 448-8589 or contact meer@spokanefpc.org.

 

Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - © January 2007