By Frank Ramirez
What fuels Rebecca Dali’s passion when “responding with compassion to the most vulnerable persons in northeastern Nigeria”? According to Dali it is her personal story and history–one of “poverty, frustration, rape, a son abducted (by Boko Haram) 11 years ago”–that inspire her life’s work.
Dali, a member of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), is founder and executive director of CCEPI (Center for Caring, Empowerment, and Peace Initiative). CCEPI is an organization that serves the most vulnerable populations who have been traumatized by Boko Haram attacks. Her work has attracted worldwide attention and support. In recognition of her work, as part of the observance of World Humanitarian Day on Aug. 21, 2017, Dali was awarded the Sergio Vieira de Mello medal at the Palais des Nations, where the UN meets in Geneva, Switzerland. Her speech at the event was titled “We Have Walked in Each Other’s Shoes.”
Dali and her husband Samuel currently live in the United States. On Oct. 9, she spoke to 26 CCEPI-USA board members and guests in Manheim, Pa., attending the launch of a book about her childhood and life’s work. We Have Walked in Each Other’s Shoes: Rebecca Dali’s Story is written by Frank Ramirez with Rebecca Dali and is illustrated by the author’s daughter, Jessica Ramirez, who painted and photographed a series of nesting dolls in the Russian style, reflecting different stages of Dali’s life.
Ramirez conducted extensive interviews with Rebecca and Samuel Dali in 2018. Originally aimed for an unveiling in 2020, the book was delayed by the pandemic.
The book is targeted for middle-school students, but readers of all ages will benefit from this story. It begins with the award ceremony, then moves backward in time as the layers of her life unfold. The image of the nesting dolls, variously known as matryoshka, babushka, or stacking dolls, reflects the fact that the person we are now was formed by what happened to us in the past. We carry the weight of our many experiences with us all the time. We are layers of our past and present selves stacked inside each other.
Dali has reflected on the suffering she has both witnessed and endured, and how the great traumas of her own childhood caused her to care deeply about the people of her country, and indeed, all suffering people.
At the book launch, she reiterated the history of CCEPI and outlined plans for construction of a new school in Nigeria. Rehabilitation services include crisis aid, trauma rehabilitation, skills training, and are open to Christians and Muslims. Basic medical services are provided, and access is arranged for more complicated medical needs. Classes are offered teaching sewing, knitting, computer skills, along with agricultural and livestock education. Legal services are offered to survivors.
Pam Reist, executive pastor of Congregational Life at Elizabethtown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, is chair of CCEPI-USA and conducted the meeting. The dinner that accompanied the event was provided by Sandra and Paul Brubaker at their home.
Both Frank and Jessica Ramirez donated their services so that the entirety of the profits from the book benefit Dali and her ministries. In addition, photographer Glenn Riegel donated the photograph of Dali that graces the back cover.
We Have Walked in Each Other’s Shoes can be purchased from Brethren Press for $15 at www.brethrenpress.com/SearchResults.asp?Search=rebecca+dali&Submit=GO or by calling 800-441-3712.
— Frank Ramirez pastors Union Center Church of the Brethren in Nappanee, Ind.
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