THANK YOU FOR READING
Have you ever made a solemn promise?
One that meant the world to you at the time you made it, but which gradually began to retreat into the dim corners of your mind when you found yourself faced with the grinding demands of daily life?
That is exactly what happened to me.
My promise was made when I was a small child, but I was not able to act on it until more than thirty years later.
During that time I grew up, became a wife and mother, and immigrated to the US with my husband. We became refugees in this country, and my husband succumbed to alcoholism. I raised our four children, virtually alone, and worked to educate myself.
Sometimes I worked three jobs just to keep my family whole.
It has taken me more than thirty years to make good on my pledge-and Atai (Ah-tie) Orphanage Fund is the result. Therefore, I consider it a particular pleasure to speak to you on behalf of Atai, a non-profit organization whose mission is to uplift the poor children of my home village of Agu by providing them with the basic support necessary to sustain strong bodies and healthy minds-food, clothing, shelter, medical care and school supplies.
The Lucky Ones
Although this fledgling organization was born in America in 2004, the very first brick-its cornerstone-was laid many years ago in the form of a solemn promise I made to God at the age of six. When I was growing up, the mortality rate for children in my village was very high. Unfortunately, it remains so even today. Those who survive are considered to be very lucky, and I was one of the lucky ones to have made it to age five.
However, there was one family in the village whose misfortunes made a great impact upon me. They were a family of four children-two boys and two girls-who had lost both their mother and father to disease, and they had to go and live with their grandmother who had almost nothing. I saw how much they suffered. They had no food, proper clothing or school fees, and I became so afraid that this might also happen to me. So I cried out to heaven saying, "Please God, I am scared and I don't want my parents to die. God, if you will let my Toto and Papa live, I promise when I grow up I will take care of all the orphan children."
Widows, Orphans and AIDS
It was during the trip back home to see my family-my first visit in twenty years-that the covenant I'd made struck me like a thunderbolt. It really pierced my heart in a way that is impossible to describe. I realized for the first time that I didn't have a choice: I had to do something about it. It came to me one day as I was walking around my village, retracing the footpaths that I'd walked many years ago as a child. Everywhere I walked I met people who had nothing: hordes of children and adults stricken with HIV/AIDS; widows scouring bare fields, on their knees, digging for roots and other scraps to make a meal; and orphans who were living a hand-to-mouth existence in search of food, shelter, paper and pencils. A sharp pain ripped through my heart and tears began to flow down my face as many of them approached to ask for help. They had heard that "a rich madam" from America had returned home to the village. If they only knew how hard I'd worked to earn every penny. I'd been squirreling away money from my modest salary as a Walgreen's manager for the past five years-just to be able to afford the price of the ticket!
For weeks before the trip, I'd frequented the shopping aisles at Sam's, Target and Walmart, busily stuffing my trunks with gifts for my many relatives back home. But as a steady stream of malnourished villagers, dressed literally in rags, came to knock at my parents' door, I found myself giving away all of my clothing and other personal belongings. I returned to my home in St. Charles, Mo. with only the dress I had on and five dollars in my purse. The need was so overwhelming that it was the least that I could do.
A Village of the Heart
My fellow villagers-for I am speaking of a village of the heart-I cannot properly express to you just how precious Atai Orphanage Fund is to me. That is why it bears my mother's name, "Atai," which means "free" in our native language. For me it is a tiny infant who has just been given the gift of life, and who now requires nourishment to grow big and strong. "It takes a village to raise a child," says an ancient African proverb. Likewise, it takes a village with a big and caring heart to save a child. In order to rescue these beautiful and precious children, together we must help to free them from a crippling poverty and disease. For the past two years Atai has managed to survive and grow only through generous donations of money and clothing from a few devoted friends, and from my own paycheck. Today I appeal to you to join me in helping to fulfill the solemn promise I made to God. Join this village of the heart and give generously!
In closing, I am reminded of the words of the Greatest Giver of all: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Please accept my heartfelt thanks for your faith and for your contributions. May God bless you!