By Mark Ellis —
Born in Ramallah, she was taken as an infant to Amman, Jordan, where her parents raised her and her six siblings in very modest circumstances.
In fact, nine of them lived in a one-room house without electricity. Their bathroom and makeshift kitchen was outdoors. Even though her father had a decent job with Singer Sewing Machine, he wouldn’t buy a sewing machine for her mother. He frittered his money away on wine, other women, and nightlife.
“We were hungry and he wouldn’t give money to mom,” recalls Norma Nashed, the founder and president of Restore a Child.
Norma describes her mother, a Christian, as a living saint. She awakened at four o’clock in the morning to bake bread for the family. After the children went to sleep at night, she sewed until midnight to earn extra money.
The children shared one towel between them. Norma walked three miles to get to school. Beginning at the age of 10, she and her sister stayed to clean the school after everyone left, so they would not have to pay tuition.
“We stayed at school until 7 p.m. and sometimes had to walk home in snow, with no coat and no boots,” she recounts. Because she had only one set of school clothes, in the morning, she walked back to school in the same wet clothes.
“There was no heat in the house because mother only had the money to buy a few pieces of coal.” In the morning she ate bread dipped in tea. They rarely had meat to eat, occasionally some eggs, but mostly they subsisted on rice, beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables.
Despite all this, they were amazingly content with their circumstances. They didn’t know any other kind of life. “We were happy,” she recalls. The whole family slept together on a thin mattress on the floor, “hugging each other to get warm.”
Her mother’s faith shined brightly within the walls of their tiny home. “Mom insisted we have worship in the morning and worship at night,” Norma says. “She raised us in the fear of the Lord.”
Through her mother’s influence, Norma was born again and baptized at age 12. “I was always very spiritual,” she says. “I loved to sing and to pray.”
Norma invited a dozen children in the neighborhood into their house to teach them about Jesus. A year later, she was teaching a Bible study to adults from the community.
At 14, she was jolted by her father’s death from cancer. But after his death, something amazing happened. An American missionary family moved to Beirut, Lebanon, and chose Norma to come and live with them as their foster daughter.
The change in her circumstances was dramatic. “For the first time in my life I had a bed and my own room,” she says. “They loved me like their own daughter.”
The late Dr. Robert Darnell and his wife provided Norma with loving care and education. She became fluent in Arabic, English, and French and landed a job with Royal Jordanian Airlines, where she was able to meet the late King Hussein of Jordan several times in her own office, and later met with other members of Jordan’s royal family.
Through her “adoption,” her life went in directions she would never have thought possible.
She was one of the first two Jordanian women to attend the first private pilot course in Jordan. After she began to fly, her training was interrupted by war and she was forced to leave the country. She became the only woman among 41 international airlines managers serving at Cairo International Airport.
After she immigrated to America in 1985 she co-authored “Speaking Professionally,” an intermediate-level course in ESL (English-as-a-second language) targeted to the Middle East.
Norma faced a significant health crisis in 1999 when she developed cancer. “I didn’t know if I would live or not. It was time to give my life completely to God. I had no medical insurance, no husband, and no income.”
Her mother told her God would provide for her, just as he did for the birds of the air. “For three years I battled cancer and God healed me,” she says. “Cancer made me realize life is not about me and I needed to dedicate my life to helping the poor.”
Norma went back to visit her sisters in Jordan after an absence of 12 years. She took time to visit the school she once cleaned to help pay tuition. During her visit she was shocked to see two students sent home because their parents could not pay their fees.
“The children were humiliated, crying,” she recalls.
Her indignation building, Norma approached the head of the school. “How can you punish children for their poverty?” she asked.
Norma paid the $1,000 due for the two children to continue their education. On the plane flight home, God touched her heart with a new sense of purpose and calling. “I know what I have to do. I must help kids go to school,” she decided.
When she got home she quit her job and started planning and organizing what has become Restore a Child, an organization helping children in desperate circumstances.
Moving beyond help with education, Restore a Child built orphanages in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Indonesia. They bought a home for orphans in Congo, built schools in Tanzania and Haiti, and support several other orphanages, schools and hospitals in Africa. “We are building another pediatric ward in a new hospital in Chad near the Sudanese border, she says.
Restore a Child is currently supporting 4,000 orphans throughout the world. Norma refuses to take a salary from her organization and works from her den. “I refuse to take money from orphans,” she says. She gets by on her monthly social security check, a pension of $340 per month, and a part-time job to fill in the gaps.
Even though she overcame cancer, Norma admits her current health condition is tenuous, as she deals with
heart and lung disease, arthritis, and thyroid problems. “My lungs are working at 40 percent of their capacity,” she says. “I used to work 15 to 20-hour days, but I can’t do that any more.”
Restore a Child supports children in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Chad, Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Bolivia, Haiti, Jordan, and Indonesia.
“I look at kids as to what they can become,” she says. “We can’t allow the children to be left alone. If you want to change the world, sponsor a child.”
If you want to know more about a personal relationship with God, go here
Restore a Child helps to provide children in desperate need with the basic essentials, including education, necessary for them to lead healthy, fulfilled lives and contribute to their communities.