Working over the course of this past year with young women in the slums of Nairobi I have been privileged with the opportunity to hold very many hands. As it is the normal Kenyan greeting to shake the hand of another it is also a sign of trust when a young girl takes your hand and leads you to the entrance of her modest home.
The hands that have touched mine were sometimes soft and gentle, still young and learning about the world. Others were calloused and worn from years of an already hard life at such a youthful age. Some were covered in grime, unclean from the lack of proper sanitary conditions and access to clean water. And still others were strong and hard, holding a firm grasp on a hopeful, brighter future.
I have held the hands of young teenage mothers clutching at the tiny palms of their newborn babies. The youthful energetic hands unwilling to accept the bleak circumstances surrounding them. The hands of aged mothers wrinkled and creased from years of worry and strife over where the next meal would come.
Yet it was the hands of hordes of small children playing in the mud-covered streets that I still feel today. The trusting, unwavering impression burned onto mine from the tiny hands of a bright-eyed toddler. Little arms reaching upwards to make a connection filled with inquisition and wonder. The memory of a young boy, ragged with poverty running towards me with a glow in his eyes and a smile so wide, reaching me and grabbing my right hand unwilling to ever let go.
There is safety in the holding of hands. There is refuge in taking the hand of another human being stricken with impoverished conditions and in that moment feeling as if everything would be all right. Holding the hand of a young woman trying to make a better life for herself with the odds against her is a privilege and an honor. I am lucky to have held the hands of women who will craft for themselves and their children a better future.