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Saturday, April 9, 2011

A new journey

I'm going back to Africa.

I've been there four times, all of them as the leader of World Vision's 30 Hour Famine Study Tour (2006-2009). But this time I'm not going as a World Vision employee or as the leader of a group. I'm going to visit someone I met on an earlier trip. Someone who I haven't been able to get out of my head since I met her in July 2007.

Her name is Chawezi, she's now 27 years old, and she's a mess. Well, at least to our standards in America, she is, but she sure seems to be a mess even by rural African standards as well. She has no legs below the knees. Her father has never been in her life, and her mother died when Chawezi was nine years old. But that's the good stuff. The really bad stuff is even harder to handle. (Warning, don't read the next paragraph unless you've got a bit of a strong stomach.)

Chawezi was born without an anus, which means that whoever oversaw her birth (probably a midwife from the village) had to cut an opening to allow her to pass waste. The result is that Chawezi has no control at all over passing of ANY waste from her body.

As if that wasn't bad enough, she suffers from epileptic siezures. There are other medical issues as well, which at this time I can't recall.

In many African cultures, women are second class citizens. Disabled persons are as well. To be female, disabled, and constantly soil yourself is to be an outcast from society, to be sure. How many young girls dream of growing up, meeting Mr. Perfect, getting married, having children, living a happy, fulfilled life? I'm guessing almost all little girls do. For Chawezi, that dream will never happen. Just figuring out how to survive is all she has time for.

Luckily for her when I met her, there was an elderly woman in the village who was caring for about half a dozen orphans, including Chawezi. The others were all sponsored by World Vision donors, and were going to school (the oldest of the group other than Chawezi was about 17). Due to Chawezi's infirmities, she had not been able to go to school, and had no skills with which to care for herself. Once her caretaker passed away, Chawezi would be on her own, with no marketable skills.

So this is where we started. Some of the members of the group I was leading raised some money to send her to a trade school (although in reality very few group members chipped in, and Aimee and I covered almost all of the cost), where she learned how to tailor. But over the next couple of years, her medical issues started getting worse, and by last year, Aimee and I knew we'd have to take further action to her Chawezi. Namely, how can we stablize her medical issues and allow her a way to support herself and live as happy a life as someone in her condition can.

Let me be frank here. If I had the resources, I'd offer to bring her here to the US, get her doctors who could do the necessary reconstructive surgeries to allow her 'functions' to function, fit her for prosthetics, etc. But I don't have those kinds of resources. So we're going to do what we can.

For now that means I am going to Malawi to visit her, encourage her, let her know we want to help her, and find out through her and World Vision staff in the area what she needs and what can be provided. I don't yet know how we'll pay for it, but we'll worry about that once we know what 'it' is. And several members of my family have already offered to chip in, so that's an encouragement.

I leave on June 3, arriving in Malawi June 5. I'll board a plane to return home on the tenth, and arrive home the eleventh. I'm excited to go back to Africa, yes, but I'm more excited to see Chawezi, to talk to her, and to let her know that she is not alone.


  1. Hey Pat, have you thought about setting up a group giving page, or some way for people who hear about Chawezi to donate? I'm thinking big here, but it seems like a story that media might be interested in, and that might be able to connect you guys with some help from the medical community... Oprah's Angel Network... ? Anyway, keep us updated on how we can help :-)

  2. Rachael,thanks for the comment. The thought of a giving page has crossed my mind, but it didn't seem right to set something like that up unless people started asking how they could help. It seemed presumputous, I guess.

    I hadn't thought this would be a story that media would be interested in, but you might be right. Maybe I'll ping John Yeager and get his feedback. Oprah? Another interesting thought...