Just As I Am, by Sandra

Sandra’s words express what it has meant to her, and her family, to be supported – just as she is… 

Sometimes I sit quietly by a window just to watch the world around me and reflect on my life.
Today was one of those days. Today was one of those days where I sat by a window and reflected on my past and future.

A certain conversation that I had with my grandmother days before kept playing over and over in my head;
“I never thought I’d be able to see the day you graduate,” she said.
“You always say that,” I point out, “You said that when I finished primary school, you said that when I finished secondary school. You didn’t think you would be around to witness me go through all those steps but you have. You will see me graduate next year”
“That’s not what I meant,” she replied, “Not in that way at least. “
I wait in silence for her to go on, desperate to hear her explanation.
“When you were born, you were such a tiny little thing. So small and sickly. We honestly didn’t think you’d make it…but then you did; in one healthy piece! When you were selected to join the choir I was ecstatic! Because your selection into the choir was a reminder from God during a time of darkness that there was still hope. That he was still fighting for us. Through you.”
She paused, seemingly stuck on a memory whose momentum only she could comprehend.
“When you returned from that first tour, the people around us were shocked that you were still alive! They were so amazed and confused that you; a young girl from a disadvantaged home, growing up in a neighborhood choking with the weight of broken dreams and helplessness, had somehow made it onto an airplane. I always knew you’d survive. I just never had any hope that you’d thrive!”
Today I sat by the window and revisited that conversation. I couldn’t wrap my head around one thing; how is it that it was me? How did a kid from a neighborhood riddled with crime, disease and despair end up here? Never in my wildest dreams as a child did I ever think I’d amount to much let alone hope to graduate. I always thought that such occasions were for people from better homes with better clothes.

Until I was selected to join the African Children’s Choir.
That was the first defining moment of my life. Not because I got to travel on airplanes and sing in front of thousands of people. Not because I got to meet Bill Clinton and Mariah Carey. But because for the first time in my life, someone gave me a chance.
I couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of that moment at that age but I do now.
When I looked at myself I saw a child who’d been raised to keep her head down, stay in the shadows, live life quietly and work hard enough to afford one meal a day.
But when that Music for Life team looked at me; they saw a child with potential. A child who could amount to something. A child who deserved support and encouragement. A child who deserved an education and a chance at chasing her dreams. That was the first time I felt like I mattered. That I was seen. That I was enough. That I could be heard.
Just as I am.
Because I was. Not because of…

There’s something humbling about knowing that God brought this huge opportunity to me. That it wasn’t about how much money my family had, or how many cows we owned, or what kind of clothes I wore, or what level of education my parents had. It was simply about me and the talents God gave me. I was a young girl, with a battered school bag and torn shoes armed only with what came from inside. And that was enough. I was enough. And I had potential.

I always tear up thinking about it; the moment it hit me that I didn’t have to believe everything I had been raised up until that moment to believe. That I was enough. That I belonged. That I am not less because of where I come from. That I am an equal. That I deserve a chance to better my life and the lives of those around me. That I have potential. That I am loved.
Just As I Am.

I was selected just as I was. I have been educated me just as I am. I have support and mentorship just as I am.
They’ve given the greatest gift; faith.
Faith in myself, faith in the children growing up in similar homes and circumstances that I did, faith in those children’s potential, faith to know that just as Music For Life did; I too can make a difference in someone’s life.

I’m surrounded by children at church and in my neighborhood who have vast potential. Who could lead such amazing lives and make such incredible impact in their communities. They just need to be given a chance. A chance to fight for better than what they come from. A chance to believe in themselves. A chance to dare to dream.
I stand before you today as an incredible young woman with big dreams who is about to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Relations and Diplomatic Studies. I have plans and goals to be a part of a network fighting for justices on equity, disparity and for marginalized communities. I want to ensure that children from underprivileged backgrounds have equal access to education, healthcare and other opportunities. I hope to fight for the rights of those who have no knowledge of that concept itself. I am dreaming like a dream because someone saw me, someone looked beyond my torn clothes, reached out and gave me a hand to hold onto through this journey called life. Someone decided that I was worth saving.
Just as I Am.

To discover how you can support children like Sandra to reach their full potential, just as they are, visit our #JustAsIAm campaign page here.

Sandra when she toured with the African Children’s Choir in 2003/2004

Sandra now