#GivingStories : Marissa Erwin
In January of 2016, I was a part of something that forever changed my life for the better. I was given an opportunity to go to a land that I had dreamed of since I fell in love with The Lion King as a child- Africa.
My college was very involved with a wide array of mission opportunities, and it was through that school and the wonderful influence of my adviser that first sparked my interest in traveling to the small country of Malawi located in Sub-Saharan Africa. I had seen the pictures and heard the stories of the suffering that often takes place in regions such as Malawi. Africa was on my bucket list, so I figured, why not? This was an easy outlet that I could take to not only see that side of the world, but also get to help people and experience it differently than I ever could as a tourist. With that thought, I somehow convinced my parents to allow me to go and began to raise funds.
The reality of what I was able to experience is hard to put into words. Of course, starting to understand it first comes from explaining what it is that I was a part of, and the answer to that is love.
Agape House was founded in 2011 in response to a large population of children living on the streets that had no access to education. The very man that sparked my interest in going on this trip was the man that founded it, noticing while teaching at Blantyre’s medical school the number of children begging on the streets during school hours. Primary education is free in Malawi, however there is a large population that cannot afford the uniforms or shoes required to attend school. This sparked a desire to want to help, and before long Agape came into being.
I spent a little over two weeks, donating my time, by working with the children directly affected by poverty the likes of which I had never seen before. Their clothes were tattered, most of them didn’t wear shoes, and many were thin. I met children who were orphans fending for themselves on the streets. I met children living with HIV. I met children who often didn’t get enough to eat. But despite all of that, I met children who lived life with such joy that it was inspiring.
Agape provides a safe environment for the children who so desperately need it. It provides two meals a day, a shower, and clean clothes to those who may not be getting those regularly without it. It provides a caring environment, one that teaches children about the love of God, equality between the genders, HIV awareness, in addition to normal school subjects. It provides a way to empower the forgotten street children so that they may one day rise above their circumstance and change Malawi from its core.
Agape House essentially embodies the concept that it gets its very name from: the Greek word agape. Agape means love, but it extends past the “regular” form of love. It is the highest form of love, that which we can only obtain from the loving influence of God. It is the purest form, for it is love in terms of selflessness and hope and faithfulness. If there is any place that embodies this, it is that little school in Blantyre, Malawi, that despite all obstacles has found a way to love and educate those that have been forgotten.
Through Agape House, children are being fed and educated, and above all, they are being loved. They are the most wonderful children that I have ever met. Many come from impossible circumstances, yet they are hopeful and joyful and loving. They often don’t have the things we take for granted, namely food, clean water, and shelter. But their gratefulness and desire to learn is astounding in the sense that it changes people. I can guarantee that every person who has stepped foot there has been changed for the better.
For me, my giving did not just stop with time. As part of a school group, I was able to educate our campus on poverty and education in Malawi. We were able to not only raise funds, but also gather school supplies so desperately needed. We organized a book drive. I can honestly say, I will spend the rest of my life doing whatever I can for those children.
I have much in my life that I can be thankful for. I was raised in a loving home, where I did not want for anything. I was blessed with a loving family. I received a college education. For me, these had always been things that I had taken for granted. After seeing the poverty of Malawi, I cannot stress enough how inspiring these children are, and how amazing their teachers and everyone involved in Agape are. These kids walk miles and miles barefoot just to learn. Their desire to attend school, something I unwittingly took for granted, extended past how far they had to walk. Agape provided a place of hope, a place so wanted and needed by the surrounding communities that the children were unrelentless in their pursuit of an education. These children are literally the future of a country crippled by corruption, HIV/AIDS, and poverty, and they deserve to be supported by those of us who can. So, please, if you cannot donate your time as I did, consider donating in whatever way you can to these truly extraordinary and deserving children.
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