Monday, December 13, 2010

A Holiday Message

Dear family and friends,

I am writing to you for a reason.

Of course, I wish you all Happy Holidays, a great 2011, warmth and joy and all the things that make the holidays in the U.S. so special. But really, that's not the reason I'm writing.

I'm writing because I know your hearts, because you're the people I count on, because I know you can help the community I have gotten to know this year. I am writing on behalf of children I've gotten close to, who don't have their own network of family and friends to rely on but who need support this holiday season more than anyone in the world.

I'll be spending this Christmas and New Year's in Mokhotlong, Lesotho, where I have been working since February with Touching Tiny Lives, a local charitable trust that provides life-saving support to children under five in this poor and HIV/AIDS-ravaged country in southern Africa.

What I have seen this past year has been both profoundly unnerving and profoundly uplifting -- horrible illness and unspeakable malnutrition, but also a locally-run organization that is making a difference, saving the lives of children, one child after another.

The story of one of those children, 16-month-old Ntseliseng, speaks to both the sadness and the hope. When she arrived at TTL in April, she was an orphan on the verge of death, fighting undiagnosed HIV and other illnesses, an infestation of scabies, and malnutrition so severe that her tongue barely fit in her sunken cheeks. Her stomach was distended from hunger and her legs were completely undeveloped.

Three months later, after 24-hour intensive care and nourishment at the TTL safe-home, Ntseliseng had transformed into a happy and healthy toddler, on a successful regimen of medication for HIV and taking her very first steps. She was soon reunited with a loving aunt who TTL helped find and who has stepped forward to be her full-time caregiver. She remains in good health, and her future now looks bright.

This year I've seen many children like Ntseliseng, and it's been difficult. Sometimes I curse the rotten luck these babies have received in life, born orphaned into pain and poverty. Sometimes I question why I am so lucky, with all my family and friends, with my health. Sometimes I feel unavoidably uneasy about the disparity. When I sat down to write this letter, I felt the same sense of awkwardness we all feel when we ask for things from others.

But I don't care about that. I want you to know that this isn't about me. It isn't really about you, either. It's about all of us realizing that $50 can literally save a child's life, or that $100 can give a child another chance, a chance he or she certainly deserves after getting such a raw deal at the start.

Touching Tiny Lives here in Mokhotlong receives a majority of its funding from the Touching Tiny Lives Foundation in the U.S., the organization that hired me to work here and an organization that survives on donations from individuals like yourselves.

With the funding from TTLF, the staff of TTL provides transportation for children to mountainous clinics and hospitals that are otherwise impossible to reach; delivers life-saving food packages to children in their rural villages; rehabilitates the most ill and malnourished babies in the TTL safe-home; and supports HIV-positive pregnant women and new mothers so they don't transmit the disease to their babies.

Even a small amount of U.S. money goes a long way here in Lesotho. Please help. I wouldn't ask if I didn't know how much your support matters. Donations referencing this letter or my name can be made at

All my love and thanks,