2017 Fall Speaking Tour (from Take My Hand Spring 2018)
For the tenth time in twenty days of the 2017 Fall Speaking Tour, Acivo Rhakho told her story: Nagaland, India (her childhood home) was a rigid patriarchy, where most held the belief that education was wasted on girls. Why invest in your daughter if her only value is to serve her family and then later her husband and his family? Boys will go on to get jobs, earn money, have a family, hopefully with more boys. Taken care of by their single mother, Acivo’s family was so desperately poor that her one brother, who would require an unequal share of the family’s resources for his care and education, moved in with another relative. Yet her mother knew from experience that her daughters had to be able to survive without husbands if necessary and, despite the difficulties, sent Acivo to school.
Why is it necessary for Acivo to come to the United States, meet directly with ARI supporters, and tell her story? Couldn’t an AFARI staff member or supporter just give a talk or show a video with this information? They could, but how effective would that be in helping supporters understand the depth of the impact ARI’s Rural Leaders Training Program has on its participants? When Acivo speaks to us in person, we connect with both the little girl who was constantly being pushed down and passed over for the boys in her school and community, and the confident, inspiring woman she has become. We cannot help but wonder, how did this happen?
Growing up the way she did, how did she make her way to Japan as an ARI participant? Then, out of the many graduates, how was she chosen to return to ARI as a Training Assistant? How was it that she became a missionary to Cambodia for several years? Equally amazing, how was she, out of so many hundreds and hundreds of graduates, chosen to become one of the very few full time graduate staff members at ARI? How did these experiences change her and how did she change others?
We hear the deep context that shows us ARI’s role in her personal transformation and later in the transformation of the individuals and communities where she served. We hear it in her voice, accented by learning English later in life but confidently conveying her truth. We hear it in the way she responds to questions, helping those struggling to grasp the realities of her background. We experience it as Acivo leads supporters in cooking a curry, similar to the way she has led hundreds of ARI Participants to grow in confidence as leaders while they grow in confidence in the kitchen. Her homestay families grasp it as she recollects a memory here and there during evening conversations about family and daily life in Nagaland, Cambodia, or Japan.
Later, as these supporters move on to their other appointments and go back to their lives, their encounter with Acivo will continue to resonate. She has challenged them to see the world in a different way. Her very life is a message of hope that, despite the obstacles, even a little girl from one of the most remote areas on earth can be transformed and transform others. We feel the urgency in her voice.
One of my responsibilities as a graduate working at ARI is to be available for speaking engagements, which I have always felt are precious opportunities to talk to our supporters about their good works and introduce ARI to new people in Japan. But I never expected that I would get an opportunity to go all the way to the US to meet overseas supporters! While I was excited when Kathy first told me about the trip, I became more nervous about people being able to understand my English as the time drew nearer. Thankfully they did!
Meeting supporters and seeing their love for rural people they have never met and rural places they have never been was an amazing experience. This, as well as the passion I saw when my fellow presenters spoke of ARI, challenged me as a graduate to re-evaluate how I can best serve my people.
Over the course of our travels, I was given an image that aptly illustrates how ARI’s supporters are connected to the communities its graduates serve: that of a fruit tree which needs a healthy environment in order to grow up sturdy and laden with fruit. We graduates are the fruit in this metaphor, and like literal fruit, we are not produced overnight. It takes the presence of nurturing soil, gentle rains, and warm sunlight (our supporters), as well as great effort from the tree itself (ARI) to create fruit that has the potential to nourish the surrounding ecosystem.
Every supporter has a role to play, and only with their united teamwork, sacrifices, and selflessness can we achieve a common goal; a goal to give less fortunate people a chance to live a better life. Traveling with Kathy and J.B Hoover and meeting supporters in the US who are so passionate about ARI’s mission, helped me to deepen what Jesus told us to do: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10: 25-37)
Acivo Rhakho, ARI Meal Service Coordinator