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Talita Cumi is a story about girls and their mentors, and I can’t tell you their story without telling you the story of this project’s first mentor and the girl whose life she changed.
Carol Kimbriel was a woman who saw a little girl whose parents were struggling to make ends meet. When this girl’s parents’ workday was over, they began their second job, cleaning an office building in the evenings. They dreamed that their children would go to college. But that dream seemed far away when they had to ask their 13-year-old daughter to work with them in the evenings, rather than going home to an empty house.
God moved in Carol’s heart to intervene, and she responded. She offered her home as a second home to their daughter. Until the girl finished high school, she spent several nights a week in Carol’s home. There she did her homework, and she went to youth group with her best friend, Amy, Carol’s daughter.
She began to form a vision for her future. Carol gave her important advice about life, but most of all, she taught her to follow Jesus.
And because Carol opened her heart to that little girl, I am writing about the Talita Cumi Girls’ Clubs project now.
In 2005, serving in Chile, when I realized the limited prospects of young girls living in poverty throughout Latin America, I imagined a place where girls would find mentors and friends, and discover an alternative identity from the one the world offers. I imagined the people and the places where they might discover and cultivate their true identities, as brave, loving, hopeful, wise, daughters of God.
That is the mission of the Talita Cumi Girls’ Clubs program, to help vulnerable girls throughout Latin America, become their true selves and participate in the redemption of their communities and our world.
And today, throughout Latin America, Talita Cumi Girls’ Clubs programs are places where mature Christian women from local churches gather girls from their communities and teach them how to walk together towards Christlikeness, discovering those strengths of the heart that help them become women secure in their identity, with gifts and talents to change their world.
These strengths of the heart are the virtues, known in the classical Christian tradition as Faith, Hope, Love, Wisdom, Temperance, Courage, and Justice.
The practice of the virtues, as habits of character, can change not only their lives, but the lives of those around them. They teach them how to find friends and to be friends. They teach them what love is, and what it is not.
And more than anything they teach them that this world needs them and is waiting for them to become the people God created them to be, so that they can participate in renewing the broken places of God’s beautiful world.
What began in 2005, or perhaps in 1981, is now the program we are piloting in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Mexico. Where 283 girls participate in Talita Cumi Girls’ Clubs.
Many of these girls live in dark places, and it takes courage to love in the dark. But seventy-two women are trusting what our early church mothers and fathers knew to be true, that the life of Jesus was a life of virtue, that following Jesus means growing in virtue, and this happens when teaching is accompanied by practice and prayer.
It is my honor to present here the testimonies of two of my incredible colleagues who have come alongside me to extend even further the generations of lives changed because one woman believed that when Jesus restores life to a little girl, the story is just beginning.
Sarah Matos, Global Servant in Mexico
In April, Luis and I had the opportunity to visit Oaxaca, Mexico with Adalia Gutierrez Lee.
While we were there, we met with who will now be our future ministry partners, COBAMI, a mission school that equips Mexicans to serve cross culturally in the sixteen different indigenous communities in the State of Oaxaca and beyond through integral mission.
I had the opportunity to introduce Talita Cumi Girls’ Clubs program to them. God spoke to the hearts of the three women psychologists present and they wanted to get involved right away and bring this program to the communities they work with.
I want to introduce you to one of the psychologists, Rosario Martinez. She is one of our newest mentors of Talita Cumi. She is married with two young children and works as a social science teacher at a high school. She also teaches abuse-prevention classes. She told me that the program resonated with her, and she saw value in how the clubs can transform the lives of many young girls she knows in Oaxaca.
Rosario has seen many of her students become pregnant. When they do, they end up not finishing their education which results in underemployment, and they remain in vulnerable situations.
According to the 2020 census in Mexico, more than 535 thousand young women between the ages of 15-19 years old were mothers. In the State of Oaxaca, 1 in 10 girls become pregnant during their adolescence.
As a mentor she wants to be part of changing those statistics in her community by mentoring girls.
She loves how the program supports young girls’ mental health and helps them build healthy social skills which is needed due to the pandemic.
She looks forward to beginning a club to give the girls an opportunity to be with other girls their age and teach them about God’s love.
When a local woman is trained as a mentor, it creates a ripple effect because they not only become equipped to carry out the program themselves, but they have the tools to train and empower more women to be mentors in the Talita Cumi Girls’ Clubs program.
God is on the move and is restoring communities through one mentor at a time.
Ketly Pierre, Global Servant in the Dominican Republic
Talita Cumi has been like the frosting on the cake for my life, the life of the coordinators, mentors, and girls in the Dominican Republic.
When Adalia and Barbara invited me to start the program last March and I saw all the work that went into it, I did not feel ready because I was still undergoing breast cancer treatment.
But that was the moment that God had chosen to start it, and I had been anxiously awaiting it since the first moment Barbara shared her vision with me in 2014.
with the people I had left behind for a year, I went to the DR three times to work on Talita Cumi after having several Zoom meetings, recruiting coordinators and mentors.
Today, we have seven different groups, in four bateyes, which are communities surrounded by sugar cane, and three in La Romana.
But what has increased my joy has been the growth of my spiritual daughter, Leydi. She is a young Dominican, of Haitian descent, of 25 years old. Her mom died when she was a year old, and her dad raised her along with other family members. Our relationship started through Vacation Bible School.
The first time I saw her teaching a group of children in the VBS my jaw dropped. During these last four years, God has allowed me to encourage the gift that God had placed in Leydi.
Leydi says: “God built my pieces in a beautiful garden through mama Ketly and today I am doing the same with the girls that God has given me to guide them as a mentor.”
One of the many examples we have seen in the club is in the life of Gabriela. During a club she explained she had no friends since her mother taught her that friends are not real.
For her, Talita Cumi has become her family, where she has learned to show affection. Now, she is even able to show her parents affection. Today, the virtues that she thought she would never have, others see in her life.
A challenge we have overcome is the language barrier for three Haitian girls.
In the club, we learned about a young female hero who did not discriminate against immigrants, but instead she created a program that taught them the national language.
Our girls took her example and are heroes too, working together to help the three Creole-speaking girls by translating for them.
And now our club is growing in unity and love.
And now our girls are coming to believe what Leydi always tells them: “For me, life is beautiful, because God is in it.”