Monday, October 12, 2009


By Mary Tuchscherer

As a child, I sat cross-legged and stared for hours at glossy packages waiting for me underneath the Christmas tree. Often anticipation and exuberance got the best of me when Mom and Dad weren’t looking. I remember the night my sister and I meticulously un-wrapped our electric toothbrushes, brushed until sparkly clean, and giggled uncontrollably, as we taped them up again before our parents could catch us.

At my father’s funeral, one man shared a story of how my dad gifted him with money so he could follow his dream to attend seminary. Another told of the time my dad slipped him extra pay for his work as a farmhand. The only caveat from my father’s voice: “This is just between you and me, son.”

It was a gift to be part of a family that could afford to shower me and others with gifts, but I soon learned that not all the children in my rural community were as fortunate. Once I learned the hard way, when out of what I mistook for jealousy, a friend stole my new winter boots. My child’s heart did not understand, and I felt alone, confused, and out of place.

Later in life I understood my good fortune to live in a country that encouraged education and where medical care was readily accessible. As my instruction progressed, I found cues in photographs and books that depicted a different way of life: famine, starving children, and orphaned babies. I read about girls who were not allowed to go to school because of their gender, or women who couldn’t receive maternal health care because they weren’t considered to be of value. My world expanded. I remembered the child who stole my boots. My heart opened.

Life experience has shown me that when I pay attention to life, I discover opportunities for myself and for others. That is why in 2007 I answered, “Yes!” to an invitation to travel to Malawi, Africa, one of the ten poorest countries in the world. That one decision changed my life.

Eighteen months later, in August 2009, I returned to Malawi with a group of eight women and a man. We brought a multitude of packages with us: Tylenol, aspirin, condoms, bandages, books, soccer balls, and more. There were no shiny wrappings to rip off, but undeniable gratitude from those who received the gifts. As a result of the gifts, an HIV/AIDS or malaria patient would find temporary relief from pain and fever, an elderly arthritic woman in the village could sleep through the night, or a husband and wife could unite without the threat of disease or pregnancy. These gifts offered temporary relief from the harshness of life in an impoverished country.

Perhaps the more permanent gifts were those of the heart. It began at Ndi Moyo Clinic, a holistic palliative care clinic for HIV/AIDS patients. There, under a newly constructed geodesic dome, people felt the power of Reiki and Healing Touch for the first time. There illiterate women stricken with AIDS told their stories to be recorded for future generations. Friendships formed and lives shifted. I don’t know which was more powerful; the passion for giving or the receptivity of those of us who received.

At Mua Mission, seven Malawian and nine North American women united to empower each other through the creative expression of writing. We wrote about the land we came from, our names, the wisdom of our ancestors, and we communicated our thoughts and feelings for each other through blessings.

In a culture that encourages women to remain silent, poets were birthed, buried voices returned to life, dreams were conceived and women connected - deeply. Like the subtle movement of a minor earthquake, a shift began. Having broken the barrier of difference, we recognized as friends with a common humanity those once considered “other.”

Further north in the poverty-stricken village of Tukombo a group of elder women gathered to have their hands, knotted from decades of pounding cassava and washing clothes on river rocks, caressed with lavender scented oil for the first and possibly the last time in their lives. Slices of simple white bread and orange Fanta were served to women who often survive on less than one meal a day.

Somewhere along the journey, the line between giver and receiver blurred. It doesn’t matter where, what matters is that we became one. We all became sisters of the heart who made a pact to continue to give voice to girls and women near and far. Personally, I felt grateful to harvest the seeds of generosity my father planted in my soul so long ago.

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