Dear Mrs. Hodges,

I was in Africa as you know for around two weeks. During those two weeks I have changed dramatically. The way I look at myself and other people now is very different. Our team visited hospitals, jails, nursery care centers, orphan care centers, places for those with disabilities and churches.

When we went to the first hospital I found it repulsive. The smell was rancid and fowl. My opinion is that if it was here in America it wouldn’t pass the health codes. They don’t have enough supplies to keep it clean.

All the women in the maternity ward stayed in one room (after they had their baby or babies). This room was a little bigger than one of our classrooms. In that one large room many women had their children with them, except one woman. That woman had lost her baby and still had to stay in the same room. She sat in between two women who had had twins. The woman’s face was filled with sadness. Josie, one of the members of the team, said a prayer for her during her time of need. The woman was still very sad but I think that she was happy that someone had actually took the time to pray to God for her.

We brought diaper bags with us for the mothers and their babies, but we hadn’t known that a one woman lost her child. The poor woman must have been in so much agony because she was watching as we handed out diaper bags to all the other mothers and the excited look on their faces as they received them. So when we got back to the lodge at night and debriefed we decided that we would send this woman a woven shawl which was all we had left. I was happy that we could give this woman a small token of our sorrow for her.

We also asked the women what they had named their babies and they shook their heads. I wondered why and asked someone why. They said “because they haven’t named their babies yet. That’s what they meant.” Then I had learned that they wouldn’t name their babies until a couple weeks after their birth in fear that they may die. Many women lose their babies within a few days after giving birth.

Later in the week we went to another hospital where there was an HIV clinic. Inside we saw how many people got tested for AIDS or were there to receive treatment. At least 14% of people in Malawi have HIV, but those are the ones who get tested. Many people don’t want to get tested and don’t know they have AIDS.

At the clinic we talked with this woman named Mercy who shared with us her story. Her husband and her two younger kids were HIV positive. They had gotten tested and were getting treatment because they had experienced symptoms and when tested they tested positive. Then, she told us that she had two other kids at home whose ages were 11 and 13. They had not yet been tested for AIDS because they had no symptoms. She said that one day she hopes that they will get tested so she can see if they have it or not. We gave her a gift of a baby bag for her younger child so she could carry what she needed in it. Then afterward we asked her if we could pray for her and she said yes. At the end she kept saying to us “God Bless You”. I was so sad for her that her two children had AIDS. Outwardly you can’t tell. When they have HIV they just look like any other child and yet they have this serious illness. I said to her and numerous times “ May God Bless you and your children.” She was very happy that all of us who were around her kept saying this and praying for her. We told her right before we left that our church would pray for her and that we personally would also pray for her. She had a smile on her face when we were leaving. It was a great moment.

Another place we visited was a prison. Actually we went to two prisons. We brought the prisoners soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Then Don (a member of the team) went over to them and told them about us. He also told them what we were doing there and a story from the bible. When we went into their living quarters they were so small. They fit around a hundred fifty men, maybe more, in a room a little bigger than our classrooms. They weren’t able to lie down at night but had to curl up and lay against each other. There were two of these rooms and that’s where around the 300 plus men sleep.

In the prison there were many men but only around 7 guards. That really scared me because many had come in for rape or murder. Most likely they hadn’t seen women in a long time and that made me nervous, especially when we prayed. The guards would close their eyes and the men didn’t. I kept my eyes open and saw that the men were looking at us. It was very scary because I felt like there could be an uprising. After a while I got used to it and thought that God would take care of us and didn’t worry as much. When we left the men sang to us with the most beautiful voices!!! I was amazed that although they were in jail they had such good spirits and the voices were sung from the soul!!!!!

At one of the jails we saw the women. They had terrible living conditions. The floor of the place where they stayed was dirt and outside it was all dirty and muddy. The place where they cooked was just in the ground covered by soot and ash and not at all sanitary. Three women had babies and all they had to drink was soda and water which was most likely not sanitary. It was depressing to see them and how tattered their clothes were and yet how happy they were when we came. When we went to the jail we gave the women some blush, lip gloss, toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap. Their faces lit up like light bulbs. They lit up because this was something that they could call their own. Most of the women had probably never owned a toothbrush because it was a luxury that they couldn’t afford. Then afterwards we prayed for all of them and gave them hugs. They may have been in prison but they were sure peaceful and grateful for what we did. It made me fill up inside that they were so happy.

Another place we visited was a Nursery Care Center . It was so nice and the people so kind. The little children sang to us. It was so amazing. They brought chairs out for us to sit down on and many of us took them on our laps and one even fell asleep on Trinity’s lap (team member). When I took pictures of the kids they would nudge my hand after because they wanted to see themselves. When I showed them their pictures they would jump up and down scream or run in circles. They were just so excited.

Dennis and Clarissa (team members) read to them from the bible with a translator. We brought some crayons and paper to the children and gave it too the teachers to distribute at anytime that they felt was necessary. I feel it will go to very good use. We also gave them toothbrushes to brush their teeth. Monique taught them how to do it right with her own toothbrush and toothpaste. Many kids here had not seen a toothbrush and didn’t know how to use it. You should’ve seen the look on there cute little faces! So sweet and precious nothing can get as good as seeing their faces. Before we left we presented them with a children’s bible that they could read. To receive a bible, I believe , is so very important.

Another place that we went to was FOMCO where there were many orphans. When we first when into the room I noticed this little girl who had a cut above her ankle. She kept picking at it, and the flies kept landing in it and I felt so sad for her. When she kept picking at it the scab fell off and I felt deeply sorry. She was just so cute and yet she had this cut that would most likely get infected.

They sang to us and their voices were amazing. After that we sang to them “This little light of mine” which they REALLY enjoyed. Afterward we passed out paper, crayons, pencils and markers ,giving one to each child. They had most likely not gotten this before. In the classroom there was no paper. The teachers only taught them verbally. The place that they were in was a little room not even half the size of one of our classrooms. It was devastatingly small and over 150 kids were in it. The people who run it said it hadn’t been built to well and that at any moment it could fall down. I found that deeply disturbing because that was their school room and probably one of the only places that provided shelter over their heads. [It was raining hard when we were there, and we left a donation for the repair of the roof that leaked water.]

After seeing the classroom, we went into another room where we fed them their lunch. This meal would be the only meal that they got that day. What they eat is like gruel. It’s called soup but is really a feeding supplement. They mix it with maze (corn) and make it thicker and have more of it to eat. One of the kids wouldn’t eat, but then my mother fed her the food and she ate it, every last bite. Michael (one of our team leaders) was feeding this one girl her food with a spoon which was just so cute because many of them were so helpless. These kids were so young and had to learn how to use spoons so much earlier than normal because no one was there to feed them individually.

In the feeding room there were coffins. I was so surprised when I saw coffins for little children and adults. What saddened me the most is probably around half the children by next year will be in one of those coffins.

Later in the day we had a soccer game with the FOMCO youth. It was a really good game and for the first half we didn’t let them score, but in the end they beat us. It was a good game and really fun. The children on the sidelines laughed hysterically when we made our moves. After the game we all shook hands and said “good game.” One boy shook my hand, and wouldn’t let go. Then he said “Can I have you shirt?” I said hold on one second. Then I ran over to Dennis and was saying “HE WANTS MY SHIRT!! WHAT SHOULD I DO?” The boy came over again and I hid behind Dennis and after a while he stopped bothering me.

One of the last places we went to a place for those with disabilities. The hut they had was around the size of an office in our school. The people told us that they had thought we had ignored them [in not bringing them food] because of their disabilities. But, that wasn’t true. We hadn’t gone because we didn’t know that they were there. What is truly amazing is that those who have disabilities take care of the orphans! They don’t let their physical problems get in the way of helping other people who need it. That was just amazing. I couldn’t believe how spirit filled they were even though their conditions were terrible. The people who ran it also tried to send the orphans to school with money from their own pockets. School there is very expensive. When we left all the team members said “We have to start sending supplies there. They really need the help.”

On Sunday we went to three churches. They were little huts with absolutely nothing to them but a loving and heart filled congregation. I was surprised by how loud and beautiful their singing was. We also met several church youth groups. They enjoyed learning about America. They had imagined it very differently than the way we explained it. They also laughed when we told them about what we thought Africa was like. We gave them soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and hard candy. They were so happy! They smiled and whenever we gave it to them they would kind of bow their heads and say thank you. No one in our school would do that for those types of things!!!! How lucky we are here and we don’t even realize it!

The place where we heard the best singing was at the school for those who were blind or visually impaired. They sang beautifully with their voices and were respectful of whatever we had to say. They would listen to us and when we told them what we had brought for them, I saw one girl crying and overjoyed at the thought of a toothbrush. Monique had to explain how to use a toothbrush by words instead of showing because they couldn’t see. Before we were about to leave we said a prayer for all the people who were there and all those that we saw. It was so moving I could’ve cried. The joy on their faces was enough to fill my soul up for a lifetime! In the future I hope to do this again.

I have been changed by what I saw and experienced. People in our school eat a tremendous amount of food per day. They eat two lunches, a muffin, cookies, etc and these people have nothing and have better spirits. Now, when I eat my three meals a day I think of those who only get one meal a day of much less quality. I feel bad every time I see someone throw away some new shoes that just got muddy because those people have no shoes for their feet.

Many people in our school could not do this. They are just so happy to get a new hundred dollar shirt when these people only make a dollar a day and are happy to receive a toothbrush. They live under harsh conditions and yet have more of a need to learn then EVERYONE AT OUR SCHOOL! Those people live in nothing but a small hut with maybe a blanket on the floor but mostly not anything else. The people in our school live in these huge mansions compared to their houses, compared to my house, and yet they aren’t satisfied. All they want is more more more! They want another pair of shoes, a hundred dollar belt, anything pricey and outrageous. These people all they want is a toothbrush something they can consider their own! A TOOTHBRUSH!! A LUXURY!! And do the people in our school care? No. all they care about is getting all they want all the time.

The prisoners that we saw I would like you to know are better behaved then our school kids. The prisoners are in the prisons for rape, theft, murder and other punishable deeds and yet they still respect you. They are quiet when you speak and don’t say a word. They don’t mumble behind your back a bad word or something that makes them all laugh at a joke about you. The people there who live under such harsh conditions are more well behave then those who have WONDERFUL conditions!!!

Since I came back I have been changed. My life, my perspective, everything. When you come back to people who don’t understand and won’t listen, it’s painful. I got great joy by helping those children who have nothing. While there we may have big spiders, rooms with bed bugs, mosquitoes with malaria, but I don’t care. Those people are more important than anything I own. My life goal will be to help those people. This is why I am writing this letter.

I would like to ask you for help. I am with CitiHope International and am asking you for help. If our school could collect money, yarn, knitting needles, pencils and other things (I can write up a list) it would help a lot. It would make a small difference in these people’s lives, the lives of people who care for the smallest amount of generosity, the smallest amount of a prayer. Please Mrs. Hodges, let me ask the student body if they would help collect these items for the school.

I hope someday to be able to go back to Africa and help them once again. It has given me great joy for these people and hope that they will survive. Africa was so moving and Malawi is definitely the warm heart of Africa.

Libby Holland is 13, and in the 7th grade. Coming as she does from a family with several ministers, Libby is compassionate, prayerful, fun-loving and creative. And she’s a good writer.