Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Two Front Teeth

Hello blog readers--we sent out this letter via e-mail earlier this week, but we thought we would post it here as well. Merry Christmas!

All We Want for Christmas….

Dear Friends and Family,

Merry Christmas from Africa! As most of you know, we are spending this year volunteering with Touching Tiny Lives in Mokhotlong, Lesotho. It has been a pretty interesting first couple months of marriage: living in a hut, working with sick babies, and adjusting to a different pace of life (much slower). Though there are challenges, we feel very lucky to be here together, working for an organization that does such great work.

We have been writing a blog about our experiences, and many of you have read it and asked how you can help. Being perpetual procrastinators, we haven’t replied to any of you. But as the Christmas giving season approaches, we thought we would offer some ideas for how you can help. And since we are a little bit competitive – mostly Bridget, really – we thought we would make a challenge out of it. Before we get to the challenge, however (settle down, Susie), a little on what TTL does, and how you can help.

In the Mokhotlong district of Lesotho where we are working, HIV and AIDS are ravaging the community. With HIV rates estimated at near 30%, Lesotho is at the epicenter of the global HIV epidemic. Life expectancy has dropped from 45 to 38, and rates of associated infections, such as TB, are soaring. Largely as a result of this epidemic, some estimates suggest that there are as many as 100,000 orphans in Lesotho, out of a population of only 1.8 million. Many other children have contracted HIV from their mothers. In too many tragic cases, children in Mokhotlong district are both orphaned and HIV positive.

Touching Tiny Lives (TTL) is dedicated to helping children under five years of age affected by this epidemic. Managed and staffed by women and men from the community, the organization has served over four-hundred kids since beginning work in 2004, and currently provides life-saving support to over 130 children and pregnant mothers.

The motto here is….one child at a time. We are not trying to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but we are trying to make a difference in individual lives.

To do this, TTL employs a unique model consisting of three integrated programs. At the core of the Touching Tiny Lives model is an outreach program that supports children in their homes by providing nutritional, medical, and educational support. A complementary PMTCT (prevention of mother to child transmission) program works with pregnant mothers to prevent transmissions to newborns. Finally, TTL operates a safe-home – a type of temporary orphanage - in Mokhotlong where severely malnourished and sick children are rehabilitated. The safe-home is a final safety-net for the most vulnerable kids, and a temporary home to some of the cutest babies around.

In order to run these programs, TTL has a basic set of needs: food, medicine, clothes, staff, transportation, and a warm place for babies to sleep. That’s really it – there are no frills here at TTL. We just need to reach the kids in their remote villages, provide them with food and medicine, and, if they are really sick, bring them to the safe-home and give them around the clock care, a warm bed, and all the food they can eat (as our boss, Nthabeleng, says, “Food is the best medicine.”)

You saw it coming, of course, but the common denominator for all of this is money. While TTL receives some funding from foundations and international organizations, over 60% of TTL’s budget comes from individuals. So, this Christmas we are hoping that each of you will consider making a donation to TTL. Here are some ideas of what your donation can help TTL achieve:

$5 = 1 Bag of Powdered Milk

As most mothers surely know, but Bridget and I are just learning, babies drink a lot of milk! Especially in a country where a well-balanced diet is not an option, and where many mothers have passed away, milk is the critical food-stuff for young children. TTL gives out powdered milk to outreach clients and the kids in the safe-home each drink a few bottles of the stuff each day. A gift of $5 buys one bag of powdered milk for a kid who truly needs it.

$10 = One-Night at the Hospital

When clients require hospitalization, TTL arranges their transport and pays their hospital bill. Without these services, most clients would not be able to visit the hospital. Make a gift of $10, and we can make sure babies and pregnant mothers are able to spend a night in the hospital when they need urgent care.

$15 = 1 Tin of Formula

When children lose their mothers at an early age, formula is the best option to make sure the kids don’t become malnourished. Formula is also a key tool in fighting the transmission of HIV from mother to child through breastfeeding. A tin of formula lasts about a month. Donate 1, 2, 5, or 10 tins of formula and help keep a kid fat and HIV free for that many months.

$50 = Electricity for a Month

Unlike most of Africa, Lesotho is a pretty cold country. Mokhotlong itself sits at about 8,000 feet above sea level and mountain chills come and go throughout the year (we can show you pictures of our snowed-in first week in Mokhotlong to prove it!). If you consider yourself a pragmatist, consider a $50 gift to cover electricity for a month. Sure, electricity isn’t warm and fuzzy, but it sure is warm!

$100 = 1 Month Salary for a Care-giver

Not only does one-month’s salary provide love and care for a TTL baby, it also provides a much needed job for a local woman (and though it seems so minimal, this is a good salary by Mokhotlong standards). These women are the heart and soul of TTL’s operations, and giving them a salary helps them care for TTL’s babies and their own babies at home.

$150 = 2 Tanks of Gas = 1 Week of Outreach

We know, no one really wants to donate gas. But a tank of gas at TTL goes a long way, and two tanks of gas usually last a whole week. During that time, one TTL outreach car will visit about 20 homes otherwise cut-off from help and deliver food, medicine, or a life-saving ride to the hospital.

$1,000 - $1,200 = One-Year Salary for a Caregiver or Outreach Worker

In a one-year period, about 25-30 kids will come through the safe-home, and over 250 kids will be served through outreach. A gift of $1,000 can pay the salary for one care-giver for a whole year. Or, if outreach is more your thing, the same amount can cover the salary of an outreach worker.

So, these are some ideas of where your gift would go. Again, this is a no-frills sort of place - every dollar donated directly helps vulnerable babies.

Now, if you’re not competitive or you are already sold, you can stop reading here. For those competitive types (read: Fitzpatricks), here is the challenge. We are hoping that, as a group, we can together raise $10,000. If we hit this goal, Bridget and I will ululate and dance around in a traditional Basotho celebration, film it, and send the evidence to all of you.

But how can we reach this goal? We are sending this letter to 100 people: friends from high-school and college, family, family friends, etc. If everyone donated $100, we would reach the goal. But we understand from the very few news-clips that make it to Lesotho that these are hard-times, and we know that’s not possible for everyone. So we are asking two things:

  1. Donate if you can, and however much you can. The list above provides some ideas about what your gift can do. Every gift counts, whether it is $5, $50, or $500.
  2. Become a bundler! Pass this along to friends, neighbors, and family who might be interested in helping out a good cause. Get your church or school involved - there are some great ideas on the TTL website for how to get others involved. Just like you sort-of-know Kevin Bacon, TTL stays afloat through 6-degrees of love. Pass this on, and share the love.

Thanks so much for all your support.


Reid and Bridget

PS: When you donate, mention “R&B’s Christmas Appeal” and we will let you know if we reach the goal!

TTL is a 501c3 non-profit.

Here’s how to make a tax-deductible donation:

Donate by Credit Card or Debit Card (to the TTL General Fund):


Donate by Cash or Check:

Touching Tiny Lives Foundation

11415 Manor

Leawood, KS 66211-2930

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