By Whitney Leets
Horrific statistics—we hear them every day. It’s not every day when you can be a force against one of the worst global statistics in existence. Nearly 20 million children around the world suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), and it contributes to the death of more than 3.5 million children every year. This past August, I went to Malawi, Africa with PB+J Foods (Peanut Butter & Jesus) in hopes to curb this statistic.
It’s challenging to explain a place and culture like Africa without experiencing it firsthand. Every parallel or comparison I attempt to draw from an American perspective does not even come close to the amount of devastation, hardship, and unjust situations I witnessed. You might be thinking, why would a 20 year old college girl leave all familiarity behind—comfortable living, friends, family, and of course, the ever important cell phone reception to go to help people in Africa who she has never met? This question can be answered easily, without hesitation: Alan.
After serving in the Nkhoma region for the first week, I was both physically and emotionally exhausted. I remember journaling that Thursday night, frustrated as to what my purpose was here after having served for four days. I knew the goals of the team, but God, why me and not someone else? What do you want to show ME?
That next morning, God gave me my divine appointment. We were doing our normal village walks, which consist of talking with the Malawians, praying with them, and being in fellowship with their children through sports and activities. During our closing comments with the villagers, I saw a little boy sitting up against a tree, and was immediately drawn to the severe infection that took over his right leg. I felt the immediate need to grab Stan Smith, founder of PB+J, to go and talk to the little boy with me. The 18-month child was overwhelmed with pain, and had been living with these horrible feelings for the last 3 months due to an accidental burn from a cooking fire. With no ability to make a 40-mile roundtrip to Nkhoma Hospital on foot, Alan was left to fight off the burn and resulting infection. I was able to take Alan and his mother to the hospital, and Alan was able to be registered and have the first medical check-up of his life. His injury was cleaned, bandaged, and was to be treated with internal medication. I thought to myself—wow, God has really shown me why I’m here! Then, like God always does, He goes above and beyond in meeting your expectations. During the medical check-up, doctors noticed that Alan was running a fever. After further testing, Alan was found to be positive for Malaria. Malaria, a disease that is completely treatable, is one of the number one killers of children in villages because children have weak immune systems and do not have the means to naturally combat the illness. This was my “aha!” moment—my moment of realization that I am having a direct impact on the lives of these people.
Want to know the craziest part? Saving Alan’s life cost 84 cents. Transportation, hospital registration, check-up, treatment of injury, malaria test, antibiotics, and malaria medication. Eighty four cents.
No amount of words, tears, or emotions can articulate the effect Malawi had on my life. How do you live knowing someone else is alive because of you? You can argue that ‘anyone’ could have seen Alan’s leg and helped save his life. But, I would like to argue that you have missed the point. God knew I needed Alan as much as he needed me. God gave me the eyes to see what no one else was able to see and experience in that village on August 9th, 2013.
After much reflection and prayer, it is because of experiences like the one I had with Alan that I decided to forego the opportunity of studying abroad in Madrid this semester, and felt lead to work for PB+J part-time. I have learned the meaning of giving, and cannot picture my life without Malawi as an integral part of it.
Malawi—this ‘alternate universe’ – created at first what seemed to be an uncomfortable disconnection, but quickly become everything I wish my life at home could embody. Amidst the many devastating problems that exist, Malawi will always be a symbol of peace, simplicity, happiness, redemption, and God’s undying love and compassion. My Malawi will always be Alan.
To Join PB + J helping the Children of Malawi Please visit: http://pbjfoods.org/donate/