A Special Woman with a Big Heart

Jennifer Cheserek

Jennifer Cheserek has a smile that comes from an inspiring inner joy

Jennifer Cheserek is a very special member of the Tenderfeet family. She has two huge challenges in her life — she is blind and HIV positive.

Despite this adversity, she has kept a smile and sense of humor.  It’s clear from just being around her that  she has a love of life, and an incredible faith that uplifts her no matter what the struggle she is facing.  Beyond her great attitude, Jennifer has worked tirelessly to advocate for many needy children.

Jennifer is from the Eldoret area of Kenya, about 6 hours from Tenderfeet.  At one time, she was part of an HIV/AIDS ministry in the slums of Munyaka and Silas near her home.  I first came to know about Jennifer in early 2007 when she was badly injured from a fall she had during a seizure.  Even to this day, she has to take medication to deal with seizures.

Back in 2007, she was living in a small metal shed behind her nephew’s large house.  Because of her HIV status, most of her family had shunned her.  This nephew allowed her to live in the shed, but he and his family had no interaction with Jennifer.  They treated her as if she didn’t exist.

We worked to make sure she was taken care of following this seizure accident, and then I began speaking with her on the phone about every two weeks.  We still talk every two weeks.  She is always cheerful, even when I know she is struggling with life’s problems.

Because of some medical challenges she had later in 2007, she was admitted to a women’s shelter for several months.  This was through the wonderful AMPATH program, coordinated through Indiana University.    I visited her in September 2007 at the shelter, and she was discharged not long after.  Little did we know, Jennifer’s life would be turned upside down just a few months later.

The pivotal event that rocked Eldoret and the rest of Kenya was the election of 2007 and the post-election riots that went on for weeks.  Eldoret was one of the epicenters of these riots.

I’ll never forget calling Jennifer every day, sometimes twice a day, during the riots.  It was as terrible time as many homes were burned and innocent people were murdered, and yet Jennifer’s nephew refused to let her into his big house for protection.  She was stuck all alone and vulnerable in that tiny shed, without even being able to see with her own eyes what was going on.  Fortunately, she was not harmed.  I was amazed by Jennifer’s powerful faith which she relied on to carry her through those awful days.

Soon after that, the ministry in Eldoret was dissolved as the leadership moved to other areas.  However, there were over a dozen children that depended on sponsors to attend school, as well as have food and shelter.  Overtime, a new group of concerned citizens came together to assist these children.  Jennifer was a key member of that group, and always was able to help solve the many issues and problems that came up.

As some of the families moved to other areas, it was Jennifer who kept track of them by communicating with the guardians.  I can say with complete confidence that if it had not been for Jennifer, some very precious children would have suffered needlessly.  Jennifer always goes the extra mile to ensure that every child is able to stay in school and properly taken care of.

We are very grateful to have a wonderful sponsor that pays the rent for Jennifer to have her own place.  There is no social safety net in Kenya for people like Jennifer, and without the help of her family and the possibility of earning a living, Jennifer would be in a dire situation indeed without help.

A generous friend donated the Bible on CD so that Jennifer could listen to her beloved scriptures

A generous friend donated the Bible on CDs (here I am right after delivering the package and explaining what the friend had done) so that Jennifer could listen to her beloved scriptures. Jennifer was so happy, she embraced the package!

Jennifer lives alone and is able to take care of herself, keeping a spotless house and cooking delicious meals despite her blindness.  I worry that she will have an accident some day, but she is very careful and systematic.  She has a place for everything and knows exactly what she is doing.

Jennifer has three grown children, two boys and a girl.  The father of the children mistreated Jennifer and eventually they divorced.  Per the custom of Jennifer’s tribe, the father received sole and exclusive custody of the children.

Because of Jennifer’s tireless efforts, the two boys (now men) were able to get sponsors and get great educations.  Her daughter Sarah is mentally disabled and lives with Jennifer’s ex-husband.  It is not the way Jennifer would have it, but she has no choice in the matter.  It has been Jennifer’s dream to visit her daughter because they haven’t been together in several years.

Every time Jennifer speaks of Sarah, you can feel the love and pain in Jennifer’s voice as she so desperately longs to be with Sarah.  We are arranging for a trip in August, and it is very heart-warming to see how excited Jennifer is about it.

We are blessed to have Jennifer as a very unique and treasured member of the Tenderfeet family, and thankful for the generosity of her sponsor and friends who have helped her.

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