Four years ago, 10-year-old Jeny wakes up, helps her mom, Oti, with her six younger siblings, and heads out the door to wash car windows to earn money for her family. Losing her dad to cancer that year, Jeny does all she can to help her family survive. She has never had the chance to attend school, cannot read, and has no opportunity to learn or to make friends her own age. This is life – the only kind of life she has ever known.
One afternoon, there is a knock at the door.
I wonder who that is, Jeny thinks to herself. We never have visitors.
Not knowing how to react, Jeny hides behind Oti, stealing an occasional glance at the group of strangers standing in her three-room home lit by a single bulb. A few of the men are wearing shirts with writing on it she cannot read. Confused, Jeny overhears part of the conversation and sees her mother cry.
“Everyone is telling me I can’t do this – that I should give up my kids. I just want to be a mom. I want to keep my family together,” Oti quietly confides.
One man nods his head in understanding and says there is hope. Jeny begins to believe it.
Later, Oti tells Jeny the visitors work with a ministry called Back2Back.
“They want to learn more about us to see if the ministry can help us,” Oti shares.
A never-before-felt excitement slowly permeates her once mundane daily life. Soon after, Jeny begins to see more and more of the visitors. When they arrive, she now runs out to greet them with a smile. Holding their gaze, Jeny welcomes them and leads them by hand into her home. Over the next few months, she notices positive changes around the home – a new fence, a working refrigerator, food, shoes, running water. As partnership with Back2Back grows, the pressure is off Jeny to earn money – she hangs up her bucket and sponge and is enrolled in school.
Today, Jeny is in fifth grade learning the importance of education. Realizing her education is critical to her future and her family’s long-term wellbeing, she hopes to be in school for many more years to come. With the help of a tutor, she is successful and building a strong educational foundation. This success gives her more confidence carrying over to her social relationships. Jeny has many friends at school and can grow socially alongside them, instead of managing so many adult responsibilities she used to carry.
Jeny’s relationship with Back2Back has exposed her to many different people traveling from all over the world. She loves to spend time with visiting mission teams. She embraces every retreat, game, vacation bible school (VBS) outreach and community outing, bringing joy into each opportunity. If you visit Cancun, you will see Jeny singing along, all smiles, fully engaged. She loves the front row seat at VBS and is the first to try a new song or speak out an answer.
One day at a VBS outreach, Jeny approaches a Back2Back staff member and asks, “Can I read something out loud?”
He quickly agrees but couldn’t help but think back to when Jeny was timid, lacking confidence, unable to read. She confidently stands up, unfolds her paper, and begins reading a letter she thoughtfully prepared for that day. Voice edged in emotion, she thanks God, the mission team, and Back2Back for what they have done for her family.
Since that time, Jeny’s relationship with Back2Back continues to grow, along with the number of her social activities. Partnering with local churches, Back2Back connects Jeny to solid, Christian teens her age volunteering their time to build relationships with Jeny and her peers. Together, they take trips to the beach, play games, and share stories from their different walks in life. Jeny consistently attends youth group and church. She is mentored weekly by Back2Back staff, guided and encouraged to grow in her personal identity and relationships.
Today, instead of washing windows, Jeny enjoys spending time with friends, going to school, painting her fingernails, listening to music, and many other activities any 14 year-old would love. She sees a different future for herself than she could envision four years ago. Walking out the front door heading toward school, Jeny looks around and sees opportunity instead of survival. Confident, loving, resilient, and joyful – Jeny hurries ahead to meet her friends to school.