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Poulsbo teen's lesson: 'Poverty is a physical state'
POULSBO — One image Rachel Daniels won't soon forget came from the entrance of the Swaziland hospital she visited in July.
Posted on the wall were two boxes with forms free for the taking.
One was birth certificates.
One was death certificates.
Next might be the tight conditions of the different wards, where people waited in misery.
And then the virtually empty maternity wing.
"People can't afford to have babies in the hospital," said Daniels, reflecting on the month-long mission to Swaziland, a land-locked African kingdom reeling in poverty and AIDS. A member of Poulsbo's First Lutheran Church, Daniel's mission was planned by Adventures in Missions, and cost about $5,000, raised by Daniels.
"They have to do it without drugs," Daniels said of Swaziland mothers, "or anybody to clip the umbilical cord."
The month-long mission spanned from mid-June to mid-July has left the soon-to-be Pacific Lutheran University student still grasping for words.
"It's all a bittersweet mix of emotions," said Daniels, 18, a recent Kingston High graduate and Miss Viking Fest 2008.
She spent some time crying, but not in front of the patients.
"I tried not to cry when I was with them, I didn't want to scare them."
The numbers paint a bleak picture. Swaziland has the highest number of adults living with HIV/AIDS in the world, at 26.1 percent, according to the CIA Fact Book. A United Nations report put the number at about 40 percent. Life expectancy is just shy of 32 years, almost 70 percent of the country lives in poverty, 40 percent of adults are unemployed.
But amid the sights of orphaned children in tatters and garbage piles as large as Central Market, ("I'm not even kidding"), the lesson Daniels took wasn't just of the disparity compared to her lifestyle in the United States, but something sweet and hopeful.
"Poverty is a physical state," she said. "Not a state of mind."
No matter who she met, people still smiled, still were happy to talk to her, to get to know her and share her company.
She helped look after patients in the hospital so family members could rest, she helped kids at after school "care points," safe houses where kids could wait for their parents to get off work. She counted medication, thousands of pills, and prayed for the people and their homes.
She learned about the people, she learned about the power of prayer. She told herself, "God has bigger plans for me than I have for myself."
Daniels has traveled abroad before, to Australia, and then to Puerto Rico. Her first visit to the developing world hasn't daunted her. She'll be back, and not as a tourist, but with a mission group. She believes in the power of travel to educate.
Her advice for other teens who want to broaden their worlds: