A One-on-One Mission Of Hope

Susan Page
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Wednesday - January 04, 2006
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As I ponder the new year looming ahead I am reminded of something Mother Teresa said: “Do not wait for leaders. Do it alone, person-to-person.”

The advice of this tiny Catholic sister who changed the world one person at a time is a resolution not just for 2006 but for the ages.

In 2005 we learned its truth from nature in a tsunami that laid waste to coastlines and populations just a year ago, leaving governments feckless and unresponsive. We learned it when hurricanes Katrina and Rita exposed the weaknesses of leaders and ill-conceived plans. And we learned it when the earth convulsed in Pakistan exposing not only 83,000 bodies, but the pettiness of rivalries between neighboring nations.

Volunteers from churches, charities and communities flocked to disasters giving person to person help to those who needed a hug and hope almost as much as a bed. And individual U.S. soldiers rescuing Pakistani quake survivors did far more to change Pakistani perceptions of America than could a thousand diplomats.

Last July I personally learned Mother Teresa’s truth on a mission trip called Never Ending Gardens to HIV/AIDS-ravaged Swaziland, Africa. We went to plant both seeds of hope and nourishing vegetables for the most vulnerable among us. We traveled out to remote mud hut homesteads where no NGOs or U.N. workers had ever gone. We met Swazis like Mfundo NWabetsi, and Sidumo Tdabedze and planted 468,000 seedlings of immune-boosting spinach, beet root, onions, and cabbage for theirs and other families. We met the principal of Nkwene Primary School who tearfully thanked us for the hundreds of vegetable seedlings we planted in her school’s garden. With parents dead or dying, many of her students eat those vegetables as their sole meal.

We also learned the lessons Mother Teresa discovered early on in the slums of Calcutta, India. Bypass big organizations and go direct.

“Her missionary efforts exemplified the notion that, when confronted with Himalayan challenges such as traditional poverty, small steps are more effective than monumental antipoverty programs, and so, for Mother Teresa, it was one hovel at a time,” wrote Pranay Gupte, a columnist for Newsweek International. Mother Teresa also knew that to help pull people out of the despair of poverty, self-esteem and hope were vital.

In Swaziland, I met a 21-year-old woman named Helen. She had been orphaned in Nairobi, Kenya, at the age of 3 and lived on the streets until she was 7 when Mully Children’s Home took her in. She spoke articulately in English to our group. Was it clothes or candy or money that gave her comfort growing up without parents? No.

“When someone would come to the orphanage and hug me and say my name and give me love, that is what was most important,” she said, choking back tears. “It made me feel like I existed. It gave me hope.”

Let governments pour billions into regions like SubSaharan Africa, but as Mother Teresa says, don’t wait for them. In 2006, I hope you will go to where the Helens are, where children starve for not just food, but love, and where leaders never visit. If you can’t go, give money to someone who can, who will take to the neediest of the world arms that hug, words that encourage, and a smile that validates an existence.

I invite you to go with me to Africa next July on a Never Ending Gardens mission for just 10 days, but to help tenfold.

Happy, hopeful New Year!

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