I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka, Martin Ganda and Liz Welch.
How many of you ever had a pen pal? When I was in junior high, I had a pen pal from Spain, and I tried to write to her in Spanish, while she attempted to write to me in half English and half Spanish. It was fun while it lasted, but after a year or so and half a dozen letters from each of us to the other, it was over. That’s only one reason why the pen pal friendship of American Caitlin Alifirenka and Zimbabwean Martin Ganda is so remarkable—remarkable enough to inspire a book. Their pen pal correspondence began when the two were twelve or thirteen years old, middle school, and it only ended, or turned into an “in person” friendship when Martin was able to come to the United States to attend Villanova University.
However, I’m getting ahead of the story. When Martin Ganda, resident of one of the worst slums in Muatare, Zimbabwe and also number one student in his class, received Caitlin’s first letter, he was honored and excited to be able to answer it and initiate a pen pal letter exchange. At first the two teens were far apart, not only in miles but in cultural understanding. Martin knew the U.S. for its white people, the television show The A-Team, and the WWF (World Wrestling Federation). Caitlin knew that Zimbabwe was “exotic and difficult to pronounce.” The two young people had no idea how far apart they were economically even as they became closer and closer friends through their letters.
Just as Martin could not imagine a country where the table was filled with food for every meal and and teens like himself drive their own cars, Caitlin had no concept of the poverty of Chisamba Singles, the area where Martin lived. She didn’t understand that Martin had to work for days, even weeks, just to buy the paper and stamps to send her letters, and she had no idea that asking him for a photograph was like asking for the moon—too expensive and out of reach. As their friendship developed, finally Martin began to share about his deteriorating living conditions, and Caitlin responded as a friend would respond—with concern and help.
There are some scenes in Caitlin’s life, probably meant to show that she was a normal all-American teen, that I would have preferred to do without, no matter how “honest” they were. While she was struggling to find the right way to help Martin and his family financially, Caitlin also was acting like a “typical American teen”, dating and breaking up with multiple guys, participating in girl drama, drinking and possibly experimenting with smoking pot (the last was unclear, but mentioned in connection with her boyfriend). I wanted to shake her during these interludes just like she wanted to shake her friends who didn’t understand her long-distance friendship with Martin.
Nevertheless, the story of Martin and how he and Caitlin changed each other’s lives was inspiring and intriguing. It made me want to do better about helping others out of my riches, relative to the rest of the world.
If you are interested, after reading I Will Always Write Back, in finding a way to help someone in a third world country or even in in our country, I can recommend the following charities and child sponsorship opportunities:
Kazembe Orphanage. My friend, Amy Morrow and her husband Tom are the directors and parents at Kazembe Orphanage in northern Zambia, and they need people to sponsor children. They currently have 30 (or maybe more) children in residence at the orphanage.
Compassion. Your contribution of just $38 a month connects a child living in poverty with a loving, church-based Child Sponsorship Program.
World Vision. World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. Motivated by our faith in Jesus Christ, we serve alongside the poor and oppressed as a demonstration of Godâ€™s unconditional love for all people.
Samaritan’s Purse: Operation Christmas Child. Be a part of changing children’s lives all over the world in Jesus’ Name through the power of a simple gift with Operation Christmas Child. National Collection Week for shoeboxes is the third week in November.