This is my third time arriving on a visit to the Neema Project in Kitale, Kenya. All the students I had built relationships with in the past have moved on, most of them graduates now working at Neema shops in town, who I look forward to reuniting with. However, I knew the school property would be filled with all new faces and honestly felt nervous about how we'd get on, or if I was up to the daunting task of remembering every name, knowing they'd quickly be calling out mine with familiarity.

The moment I never want to forget is the moment when I stepped out of that taxi to look at three dozen stranger faces, who met me with smiles like the sun all around. The moment when the flock of them dropped what they were doing to rush and crash into me, their voices raised in jubilee, their embrace moving around me, clumsy, turning round in a crazed huddle rejoicing in union. As it has every time I've arrived at Neema, my heart burst, my throat choked up, my eyes stung with the overwhelming shock and relief, the humbling love and acceptance of it all. Who are these girls, these young women?! Why do they celebrate one who they do not know? I come bearing no gifts, I bring only the hope of companionship and belief we can help one another grow as we strive to know and be known.

Maybe that's it. Maybe that's what counts. These are my sisters, they're halfway across the globe and our life experiences could not be further from one another's... yet we greet like people who have long needed each other. I think we have. I know they teach me. I hope I teach them.

We have spent too long on "missions trips," and missed relationships. Poverty is not a material lacking, poverty is a crushed spirit, it's a missed purpose. We end poverty when we love and empower, when we show others that they are worth something, that they're beautiful, that they CAN dream and achieve. "Fixing" surface need does not provide a human being with the hope and pride they need to grow and thrive, no matter how good it makes us feel or how cool our pics look on social media. People need people, we need to know we need each other, that we have a place in each other's worlds. Neema aims to build this in the lives of otherwise hopeless, vulnerable young women from the most unfortunate circumstances in Kitale, Kenya. Here we are all the same, all children learning the love of the same Holy Father, we are all sisters, all family. It's time to start owning that.

Brenna Carnuccio, 23yo Artist at Providence Church in West Chester, PA, Neema Volunteer

Tessa Marie Images

Tessa Marie Images