First published by Thislife Online, a not-for-profit magazine sharing stories of hope from Cape Town and beyond.
Tumaini Raymond from Arusha, Tanzania, has experienced more trauma and humiliation in her 31 years than many of us do in a lifetime. Yet look at what she’s done with her life! She told THISLIFE ONLINE how she stopped crying and carved out a life she loves [WATCH her video testimony at bottom of the page]
“My mother is deaf and when I was young, my father left her and married another lady, so we had to leave my father’s parents’ home.
We had nowhere to go, and lived under a tree for a long time. My mother worked hard for all of us to have food. By the time I was seven, she was suffering from swollen legs and I was taking care of the family.
I worked at the market, carrying bags for customers for 500 shillings (50 US cents) a day. At day’s end I would go back home as fast as possible and find my family lying down, very hungry. The market was far from home, so I ended up sleeping in corridors for three years and going home for weekends.
I went to school but couldn’t afford my school fees and was called a troublemaker because I couldn’t pay. It was very humiliating! But somehow I passed my class seven national exam, and I was the only one in my year who passed it.
Around that time, I was walking one day when I heard two women talking about how powerful God was. I had grown up with an instinct to share my problems with God, and decided to visit the church these women attended. I loved it there because the people were very nice to me. The next week, I brought my family there and we started sleeping inside it. No-one knew that and it was quite funny because the pastor was praising us that we were always very punctual!
My life was painful, but I was relieved knowing that I had a place to cry. One night, the pastor came to the church and found us sleeping on the floor. He was very sad to see us there, and the next Sunday he told the church about our situation. Some church members contributed some bricks, iron sheeting and a door and others volunteered to build us a one-room house. We were so happy, for the first time we owned our own home!
I decided to find a job as a housemaid and started working for my father’s sister. One day I was cleaning the house and my little niece got into the kitchen and burnt her hands in a kettle of boiling water. It was terrible! I just wanted to die on the spot – how would people believe I hadn’t done this deliberately?
My relatives sent me to jail, and I stayed there for one month, feeling very hopeless and useless for the first time in my life. I completely lost the meaning of life and wanted to die. I learnt too how hopeless people, including children, in prison feel: many don’t really know what love is, they’re very lonely. I promised myself that I would always remember people in jail.
My mother begged my aunt to forgive me and asked to swap places in jail with me, but she refused. Fortunately, some people from my church paid some compensation to her, then her own daughter asked her parents to forgive me. In the end, my aunt withdrew the charges.
I started at secondary school and was very happy. But a new problem arrived. The teachers weren’t happy that I couldn’t pay my school fees or buy a uniform. It was so embarrassing and by now I was really tired, I just wanted to quit school.
I went alone to a place with a lot of trees and cried a lot, telling God that I couldn’t handle this again, it was too much.
Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘I have opened a door for you and no one will shut it.’
I opened my eyes, looked around but could not see anyone. It was like a dream. I said to myself, this is God! It was the first time in my life I‘d heard anything like this. I felt so much happiness! I cried and thanked God for taking care of my life, for my health and for being alive.
From that time on, I said I’m not going to die, I will live: my life is not an accident, it’s for a purpose. I kept going to school, and I did very well again. I was the only girl who passed the exam on her first attempt since the school was founded.
While I was preparing myself for advanced school, l felt drawn to visit an orphanage where I met a girl, Angel Kimaro. She had a beautiful voice and was an albino. I just loved her and we became friends. I invited her to visit me at my family house and one evening she came. She couldn’t come by day because in Tanzania, albinos and people with brown teeth are in danger of getting killed for their body parts, which some believe will bestow wealth upon them.
Unfortunately, some men saw Angel coming to my house and in the night, in the dark, they broke into our small house and chopped one of her hands off and ran away with it.
We screamed a lot for help and no one responded. We tried to call our neighbours and every one was scared to come out because they didn’t know if those people had guns.
The men had also attacked me with a knife on my cheeks and I lost a tooth. We were both bleeding but Angel was losing a lot of blood. I went to the village leader but he didn’t open up. I went back and found Angel had fainted. I ran to my pastor, and he and some village officials carried us on their backs to hospital. It was a very terrible time, I was so worried I was going to lose my friend. My prayer was, ‘If she dies, God please take me as well’. My mother was just crying, we were all helpless.
I was the first to recover and will always have a scar on my cheek, but it was Angel who spent a long time in the hospital. Government officials paid for her treatment and food and the orphanage sent a social worker, but Angel needed lots of help. I stopped school for six months to take care of her and my nine-year-old brother also stopped school to work and feed our family.
Angel recovered and we continued school together. She used one hand and it was a very hard time because her face was sad all the time, she was always hiding instead of interacting.
However, we applied for a loan from the government and went to university. I studied sociology and Angel studied education. Today she’s teaching young children!
After the attack, I realised that my life is for the poor and the denied, and that I would become their voice and stand up for them. For them, in 2008, I started Tumaini Orphanage.
The orphanage is aimed at bringing the love of God and hope to hopeless children. We started with 17 children who were sleeping in the garbage dump near the local market. The dump is called ‘Jumba la Dhahabu’, which means house of gold. Among those 17 children, some were already HIV-positive from sexual abuse and the use of drugs to make life easier.
I collected these children, and asked for funds from friends. I got the children to school and after primary school they did short skills courses. One is now a shoe-shine, two are mechanics, five are running small businesses, two are drivers, one is still studying, three were sent back to their homes and sadly we lost two to AIDS and one to malaria.
I called the orphanage Tumaini, which means ‘hope’ in Swahili. It is my own name but I chose it for the orphanage because I have personally experienced the power of hope, particularly the hope one finds in Christ.
I met my lovely husband Raymond at university. I liked him from afar, he was dancing very well, but then he started talking to another girl. It made me feel so jealous that I started crying, though I was also laughing at myself because we didn’t know each other! Many months later, I attended his graduation ceremony and he saw me and asked my name. It was amazing that his first name, Raymond, was my surname, what a coincidence! I knew he was the right man for me. Despite our many challenges, he keeps loving me for who I am and the way he loves God makes me feel so safe. He supports the things I do.
Becoming a mother made me so strong and increased my sensitivity towards children. I now know how precious every child is and I don’t want to see a single child crying out for love, it breaks my heart. My compassion for single mothers has also increased. I realise how much harder it is for them to raise their children by themselves.
Today, Tumaini has grown a lot and we take care of 300 children around the country: 100 are in the orphanage and 200 in foster care. We are funded by friends in Tanzania and need to advertise a lot and ask people to support the ministry.
Through the orphanage, denied people find happiness. I belong to them. I see the potential in the vulnerable children, they can be our leaders tomorrow. We’re raising a strong young generation that will serve God in standing for justice and the poor, and who can have hope and trust in God even when people fail them.
I used to cry all the time. Now I know my life is for a good purpose and made me who I am today, showing me the suffering in children’s lives, the children in prison, the suffering mothers. I believe God is real, that I have seen him in my life, that His timing is best, that I owe my life to Jesus and I want to live to honour him.
Watch Tumaini’s vide testimony: