When Kayla Mahalchak ’12 arrived in Harare, Zimbabwe, last summer for her second mission trip to the country, she was surprised by how much the town had changed since she had last visited. Her first trip there had been back in 2008 with the Nyadire Connection, a non-profit volunteer organization based in Pittsburgh. The same grocery store that had offered only bare shelves four years prior was now fully stocked. The government had since abandoned the Zim dollar, instituting the U.S. dollar as the national currency, and those who now had jobs could finally afford groceries.
“The sun had just set when our team arrived in Nyadire,” says Mahalchak. “Without taking time to unpack, we ran to the Home of Hope.” Home of Hope is an orphanage that houses 25 children, sponsored by donors who pay for their room, board, 24-hour care, clothing, medical treatment, and school fees. It was that orphanage that made the most impact on Mahalchak during her first visit, and she couldn’t wait to get back.
“It’s hard to explain the joy that is the soul of the HOH. Every free moment I had with the children was spent playing, reading, and just having fun together. I was surprised when they knew some of the clapping games that were part of my childhood.”
The children hadn’t forgotten Mahalchak. When she arrived, they tackled her to the ground. “They could not believe I had returned to see them! Lindiwe, one of the girls, got out a photo of me and kept holding it up next to my face.”
Just like the grocery store in Harare, the children had changed, too. “Little Tino, once small for her age and sickly in 2008, had grown so tall and looked healthy thanks to better nourishment and anti/retro-viral drugs for her HIV/AIDS.”
Kayla talks about David, the boy her family sponsors: “He was placed at the Home of Hope in 2008, right before I arrived, having been picked up on the street. I remember how he stood on the fringes, hesitant and observant … he needed one-on-one help, and I wanted to help.” He resisted at first, says Mahalchak, but by the second week, the pair were reading together. And even though Mahalchak is back at Denison now gearing up for her May graduation, David will have plenty of books to read in her absence.
One day, while readying the storeroom for a paint job, Mahalchak came across three boxes that had been sent to the orphanage by her father. Upon opening them, she found that they contained her own childhood books. “It was like they were just waiting for me.” So she filled the home’s bookshelves with the recovered memorabilia from her youth, leaving another part of herself with the children she loves so much.
Kayla is a senior from Carnegie, Pa., majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry.