The Daily Heartache In Africa

Susan Page
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Wednesday - July 26, 2006
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Once you’ve been to Africa, your view of the world is forever changed. Certainly this is true for me.

At this printing my husband, Jerry, and I are back in Africa on a mission called Heart for Africa. We will be working at an orphanage in Swaziland, where HIV/AIDS has created thousands of young “customers” for the overwhelmed caretakers of El Shaddai. They need a place for 2,000, and have room for 60. Then we head to Malawi, where the work will be to help wherever needed in the slums of Lilongwe, working alongside local humanitarian Teresa Malila, our “Mother Teresa” in Africa.


As I fly in relative (though coach class) luxury, with a movie screen for viewing a variety of English and African movies, dinner service and a somewhat comfortable seat, my mind turns to the children. My friend, Janine Maxwell, vice president of Heart for Africa, already in Malawi, wrote me of what she experienced there last week in the slums with Teresa Malila:

“We went in on Tuesday and met hundreds of people who are dying of AIDS, starvation and disease. We also met a 14-year-old boy who has epilepsy (has a seizure every day) who is responsible for raising his four younger siblings. He had a seizure recently and fell in the fire, was badly burned, but smiling. Then we went to a hospital to the children’s ward where they had 130 children admitted the day before. There are 28 beds, so three-five children to a bed and ‘only’ four died that night. They are used to 200 new children a day and having 10 deaths. Then we went to the burn ward where little children have been badly burned in their huts with hot water, coals or hot porridge. Spencer, Ian and Carter (her son, husband and nephew) stayed outside the room - they had all had enough - but Chloe (Janine’s 10-year-old) and I went in to visit the little ones. It was overwhelming.”

She went on to ask for help. Teresa Malila needs her own doctor to go with her to the slums where she serves. The cost: $2,400 for an African doctor for one year. Yes, one year - not day! Then, Janine wrote: “And with $4,000 we can put in a bore hole and water pump to serve 20,000 in the area that we are working. It takes three days to install so could be in place by the time your trip gets here if we get the money.”

As I sipped my natural spring water out of a bottle, which is sold by the case at my local Times, the differences between our worlds shook me - again. Movie stars pay more than $4,000 for gowns to wear on the red carpet. The cost of a few iPods, computers and PDAs could give 20,000 people fresh water. Imagine what fresh water will do to mitigate water-borne diseases like typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A and even polio in that village!

And back to the doctor issue - and contrasts of our lives and “theirs” - I relate a trip to see my dentist, Dr. Wynn Okuda, just before leaving on the trip. Seems I had a wisdom tooth that cried for attention. Dr. Okuda has perfected making the dental experience so pleasant, even “spa-like” (hence the title of his office “Dental Day Spa”). Most people cringe at the idea of dental work, but I actually look forward to it because at Okuda’s you get a foot massage and a movie through “magic” glasses during the procedure. As I giggled out-loud while Jack Black and Ben Stiller created their dog poo dis-integration invention in Envy, Dr. Okuda only interrupted occasionally to ask if I was OK. Barely aware of the dental work, I grunt “ungay” and gave a thumbs up, as much for the movie as for the question.


I mention this only to remind myself of how blessed we Americans are to have the best of everything and to never take any of our luxuries for granted. When there are people who haven’t even the barest necessities of life, it’s incumbent upon us with so much to remember how little it takes to make a huge difference in many people’s lives.

If you want to go to Africa to serve or give water to the people of Malawi, go to www.heart-forafrica.org and click Malawi donation on the drop down menu.

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