Two high school girls spend a month embracing the people and culture of Africa.

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Peyton Loewen (right photo) and Erin Winter (left photo) were literally and figuratively embraced by the children of Malawi. ?I loved it down there,? Peyton said. ?The people are so friendly and they wave to you all the time. I just wished I could speak their language so I could talk to them.?

For many small-town students, summer vacation means snow cones and long days at the pool working on a tan.

Two Hillsboro High School students experienced a different reality this summer, traveling to Malawi, Africa, with Teen Mission International.

?Most of the kids were (living on the streets),? said Erin Winter, referring to the children she and friend Peyton Loewen worked with in Malawi.

?Most of the kids, their parents were dead, so a lot of the kids live together in the bush and then they come into town.?

Winter and Loewen, both juniors this fall, spent a month in Malawi, July 1-25, helping at orphan rescue units and doing work projects such as building classrooms, mixing concrete and moving bricks.

Winter said in the afternoons she and Loewen would play with the children and walk with them around the village.

?We?d do puppet shows for them and we?d sing for them,? Loewen said. ?On Sundays we would go to different churches around the different villages and sing songs and do dramas that didn?t need words.?

She and Winter were supposed to be on the ?boat team? that traveled to different villages. But Loewen said they ended up riding to most of them.

?The boats were hand-carved and were really lopsided, so we had to kind of sit on top of them and straddle them, and none of us got good enough at it to canoe across Malawi,? she said.

The teens spent two weeks in Florida at ?boot camp? preparing for their time in Africa.

 

?You?d sleep in tents because you?d probably have to do that for the mission field,? Loewen said.

Winter and Loewen did end up sleeping on the ground in tents at the mission complex, Loewen said. The food also was very different.

?We had rice with everything,? she said. ?The last couple days our Malawian leaders made us Malawian dishes. So we had goat, which is really good. I?d never had it before. We had something called mandozi, a kind of African doughnut.?

They apparently were not the only ones interested in a goat dinner.

?By where we were staying at nights, there were hyenas around because dogs kept chasing them,? she said.

The girls had the opportunity to see native African wildlife on ride and boat safaris a week before they left Africa, including elephants, hippos and warthogs.

?I wanted to go to Malawi because of how drastically different it is from what I?m used to living like,? Loewen said. ?I wanted to go to Africa because I wanted to experience how different the culture is from ours.

?They have so little, and we don?t really realize how much we have.?

Winter echoed her sentiment, saying there is so much to be grateful for here in America, and many of the things we think matter, do not matter as much as we think.

?Family and relationships matter more,? she said.

Both teens said they enjoyed most the relationships they were able to build with the people there.

?When I first got to Africa, it was so crazy because it looked just like the pictures I?d seen of Africa,? Loewen said. ?The huts, the people living there.

?I loved it down there. The people are so friendly and they wave to you all the time. I just wished I could speak their language so I could talk to them.?

She said three different languages are spoken by the people in Malawi. Their Malawian team leaders translated for the students when they went to different villages.

?Probably the hardest part was the language barrier, because I really wanted to talk to the people,? Loewen said.

Winter said she saw a big cultural difference in how the Malawians treated each other.

?They would really help each other and help you,? she said. ?When the kids were with adults, they were a lot more respectful than most Americans are.?

Winter said the most difficult part of the trip was the hardships the people there, especially the children, live with every day.

?They have to live like that for the rest of their lives, ? she said. ?They don?t really know what all is out there.?

Loewen agreed, explaining that in Malawi they had to bucket wash their laundry, take bucket showers and go without air conditioning.

?That?s just what the people are used to? she said. ?It was hard because I knew I just had to go through it for a month, and then I was going back.

?The people who live there, are not going to go back to anything, that?s how they live.?

But Loewen was quick to add that the people are used to the reality of life in Malawi and do not let their lack of material comforts get them down.

?They don?t need it, they?re happy,? Loewen said. ?I just have to be thankful.?

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