“We could have anything we wanted for breakfast: tray of eggs, bread and butter, tea with milk and sugar.” Until she was eight, Sophie’s family was considered wealthy in their village of Mteni in Kenya. They could buy new clothes, pay the school fees for their six kids, and take in three orphans. But then her father’s business fortunes changed and the money dried up. After that, if they had breakfast at all it was leftovers from last night’s dinner, a type of porridge, or “strong” tea: black tea with no milk or sugar. “We may even go to school hungry,” says Sophie.
Kenyan schools cost about 15K to 20K Kenyan shillings per student each semester – about $150 to $200 in US dollars -- and Sophie’s family could no longer afford it. But, her mother Grace spoke with a school official, who connected their family with funds from a Minister of Parliament. Sophie finished school, then continued on to college. That’s when Victor showed up to her village, part of a visiting group of ministers. Victor taught Sophie’s class, and she remembers when he handed her a graded paper, when their eyes met, when she thought, “Is this what they call love at first sight?” After returning home, Victor courted Sophie from Nairobi for over a year through phone calls and letters, and eventually came back to Mteni to meet her parents. The two married in 2006. “He was a man of integrity. He feared God and he loved family.”
Her Mom Grace had a stroke in 2009 and was struggling to regain her health. Meanwhile, Sophie had her first son, Paul, in 2007 and after 4.5 years apart, was able to join Victor in North Carolina. Daughter Grace followed in 2011, and then Sophie’s Mom passed away, a bitter loss. By the time her son Baraka was born in 2017, Sophie had earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Liberty University and the family had relocated to Washington so Victor could take a better job.
One Monday night on January 8th, 2018, something was wrong. Victor had come home from work late, after the kids were in bed, and Sophie heard him struggling. “I went into that bathroom to find him. He was throwing up so much blood.” They rushed Victor to Providence General in Everett, where the doctor discovered advanced stage liver cancer. “We didn’t know,” says Sophie. Victor never left Providence, and passed away on Wednesday, January 10th, at 3:30pm in the afternoon.
“Everything I go through in my life has a purpose. After Victor died….I chose to seek the purpose.”
After a job change in 2020, Sophie prayed, “Lord, I need direction. God, provide a means for me to reach out to as many people as I can with financial need.” Soon after, Sophie found the role of Rental Assistance Administrator and joined VOA last September, connecting families with funds to keep them housed.
”When I started working last year I had 300 cases, and other Navigators would bring their cases to me. This is my passion: to see people get help if they have a need. I love it. For the first time in my life, I hear men cry. Men do not cry in my culture. But here, they say, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure you’re doing this for me?’ when I tell them about their rental assistance. And they cry. I’m giving them hope, and offering confidence that I know things will be better.”
“Someone tells me something – a single mother -- and immediately, I empathize. I relate to their stories. I’m giving them hope, and offering confidence that I know things will be better.” Sophie knows how to drink strong tea. She knows that one day she and the families she serves will have milk and sugar again.
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Sophiline “Sophie” Abwao serves as Rental Assistance Administrator for VOA, connecting clients to rental assistance and other support. Sophie’s story is featured in our #IAmVOA campaign.