Nearly two weeks have passed since our team returned from Malawi. So many memories come to mind, but there are four images of the people that have found their place in my heart:

We, the CitiHope team, were the first “white people” this girl had ever seen. She lives in the Village of Nkhwali, located in the middle of a rubber tree forest in Malawi. CitiHope delivers food to the Nkhwali Nursery School. Her sense of wonderment and delight is obvious in her eyes.

In the smoky, outdoor kitchen of Nhkata prison in Malawi, a young man steps close to me and says softly, “Please, Lady, take my picture”. I nod in agreement and motion for him to step away from the dense smoke. He went into a posed position. I took his picture, then showed him his instant image on my tiny digital screen. As he looked at his picture, his countenance changed to one of relief and a peacefulness of sorts. He responded, “Thank you, Lady”.

The simplicity of an image . . . the looking for some assurance that ones-self is okay, has meaning, significance . . . don’t we all do that to some extent? I don’t know this young man’s story, why he is in prison, but you can tell by looking into his eyes that he has experienced much in his life, undoubtedly not what he has hoped for, and certainly not what could be his potential. I can’t help but wonder what his gifts, talents and intelligence level are that he will probably never realize, and consequently that the world will never recognize of him.

Lillian has had AIDS for seven years and is receiving ARV drug treatment.

After her husband died of AIDS, she became an AIDS activist. She is also chairwoman of the Livingstonia Synod AIDS Program, a facilitator of the first CitiHope Women’s PACCT Seminar, and an incredible mother to seven HIV/AIDS children.

Lillian’s portrait speaks volumes of her determination to survive and accomplish against all odds. The lime-green outfit Lillian has on in this picture looked stunning on her and I kept telling her so throughout the day. Lillian ended up giving me this outfit — such an incredibly generous gift! The outfit won’t look nearly as nice on me as it did her. More importantly, I couldn’t help but consider that I doubt I could wear the amazing courage she has and exhibits with such dignity.

These amazing, confident, strong, smart women will be influencing communities, challenging myths and imparting knowledge following the 3-day educational PACCT Seminar on HIV/AIDS. CitiHope was blessed to have HIV/AIDS specialist, Dr. Andy Gaston and Dr. Joseph Yu, who live and work in Malawi, presenting the information.

Dr. Christensen wanted the three-day PACCT Women’s Seminar to one of pampering these special women. CitiHope provided lodging and meals for all 28 selected women. Some came from far distances by walking, taking crowded buses, any form of transportation they could find. One lady left her home at 3 AM on Sunday and arrived at 4 PM that afternoon. She was very tired and so relieved not to have to go find wood to build a fire to cook supper, but in fact, could go to the dining room at the hotel and be served a lovely meal.

Each day the women were given donated gifts from American companies: pajamas, neck scarves, undergarments, lip glosses and perfumes. We were told that these products would cost a year’s salary in Malawi. Thank you Amiee Lynn, Blair Corp., Maybelline and Potomac Sales. (Special thanks also to Burlington for the diaper bags and baby bottles given to new mothers at the maternity ward at Mzuzu Hospital.)

Because of the powerful influence of religion in Malawi, women from several different denominations were selected as representatives for this conference. The first morning of the seminar you could sense the women were a little shy, unsure as to what was going to be presented and what their participation would be. However, by the end of the seminar, they were no longer divided by denominational barriers, but instead, united in feeling empowered to and change the face of devastation HIV/AIDS has had on their country.

The U.S. team of volunteers have now returned to their daily lives in America. You’ve read in Michael’s blog how their lives will never be the same from what they experienced in Malawi.

As a CitiHope staff member, I want to thank each volunteer for what their individual personalities and gifts brought to the trip: Don Wahlig, for his coordinating the team from start to finish, his infectious smile, uplifting laugh, and always positive attitude. Rev. Clarissa Holland, for her demeanor of confidence and ability to give a “word fitly spoken” whatever the situation. Libby Holland, for her incessant and contagious enthusiasm, along with her desire to know and understand the culture. Dennis McQuerry, for his ability to instantly connect with anyone he met. Trinity Webb, for the humbleness of his spirit and flexibility to go and do whatever was needed. Monique Webb, “the nurse”, for repeatedly showing her caring spirit, and giving fabulous “how to brush your teeth” demonstrations at the orphanages and prisons. Martha Cavazos and Kristen Albo, for the genuine joy that was so transparent on their beautiful faces as they met the people of Malawi, especially the children.

I want to also take this opportunity to acknowledge Dr. Christensen for his vision for PACCT. He is highly respected and deeply appreciated. His burden for and dedication to the people of Malawi is keenly evident wherever he goes. His sensitivity to the culture and traditions, and his ability to blend the many factors into a way forward, reveal his knowledge, wisdom, inspiration and love is for this important work.

Josie Dittrich is Special Assistant to the President of CitiHope International, Public Relations specialist, television producer, missionary, entertainment/singer.