Dear Oprah, (never mailed..couldn’t find an address.)
I know you will probably never read this. That’s OK. I’m so filled with gratitude and love right now. I so appreciate the example you have shown your viewers about what we are capable of. After seeing your girls’ school project in Africa and reading Three Cups of Tea by Mortenson about his adventure building a school for boys AND girls in Pakistan I was started on a path that has grown beyond my wildest dreams. It seems the minute you open your heart a little crack, the joy and love of the divine pours through opening this little place beyond recognition.
I heard the story of a man (Pierre Kakule Co-Director Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International ) who set out to save the gorillas of his country and ended up building a school for the war orphans that wandered out of the forest. I’m so emotional right now….so moved by how love makes what is impossible come to pass. This man lives and works in Goma, DRC. This is the epicenter of “hell on earth” right now. And rather than being overwhelmed and overcome by the expansive landscape of tragedy and violence that surrounds him, he manages to raise eight children and advocate for 300 war orphans (most of whom saw their parents killed). When he won a $20,000 conservation award, instead of spending it on a home or car for his large family….he built a school. He built hope. He built love.
I saw some travel photos my friends took of these orphans all lined up. All were barefoot and most had tattered clothing. But one tiny little girl jumped out of the photo into my heart wearing a bright little pink party dress and a huge smile. I knew that little dress was probably the most precious possession she would have in her harsh childhood. Since I have always been a bargain hunter, I was gripped by the idea that a precious little sundress bought for 99 cents at a local thrift store could become a little girl’s most precious possession. For lack of any other way of expressing this new love, I would shop thrift stores for only their most beautiful and precious little sundresses. If they had a little stain I would handwash it until it was perfect. If it needed a little white ruffle around the hem, I’d sit by the TV and sew the ruffle by hand. I had a perfectly good sewing machine but I wanted the love I felt while hand stitching the little ruffle to last as long as possible. Once when I finished hand stitching the circle of the little dress long before I wanted to, I was overcome with the desire to just keep going like Forest Gump on his run across America. I wanted to keep sewing my pretty white ruffle around the entire continent of Africa. I wanted to make hunger, despair, poverty, violence and illness as pretty and innocent as a little white ruffle. Most of this new path involves embracing the ridiculous.
As I became more educated about the immeasurable and overwhelming poverty in Africa, I would always return to my growing collection of little blue, yellow and pink sundresses. Somehow, the little embroidered strawberries, flowers and ladybugs or the little duckling buttons brought me back to something small, simple, innocent, pretty and most of all manageable in my heart and mind. When I could no longer look at statistics about malnutrition, hunger, AIDS, violence. These things are not pretty. After I perfected my little sundresses I began to hang them from a canopy over my bed so I could admire my handy work and feel the smallest sense of accomplishment in the face of such immense need.
When my collection numbered 30 perfect pretty little sundresses and the spirit of the little girls literally hung over my head, I realized I needed the dresses more than the girls did. I’d found out one 100 lb package cost $2500 to ship to a location 200 miles from them. And I also realized something so important, it will probably be unfolding for the rest of my life. And it is this: Compared to the level of need in Africa, I am extremely wealthy. Wealth was no longer something with a famous name like Oprah, Trump, or Gates. Wealth was me. And so I began in earnest to take responsibility for my wealth and enormous good fortune.
I was buying a rather expensive trip to Africa and felt the value of such a trip would certainly start with making the absolute most use of the excess baggage allowance. 10 bags.
So, I raised the $150 fee for each box and filled them with donated medical supplies. (Medwish International) I found a precious 4″ at the top of the boxes and was able to take all the dresses along with donated clothes for the boys. These boxes became the expression of my love. I traveled with them to arrive safely on the porch of the Mulinde Ngila Clinic in Kasugho, DRC. on April 13, 2009! Things that start in the heart as a little white ruffle can become unexpected miracles! A friend once told me nothing important happens without love!