LA CRESCENT, Minn. -- - La Crescent English teacher Mary-Kate Martin rounded up pen pal letters from her students here in America and is hand delivering them to their peers 9,000 miles away in Swaziland, Africa.
While the letters are a big part of her trip, there's plenty more on Martin's plate for the week.
It took a full two days of traveling to get there.
"I had a layover in Frankfurt. Spent 13 hours correcting papers," said Martin.
Martin, the founder of the non-profit Hosea's Heart made her way back to Swaziland, Africa, armed with letters and gifts from her American students back home.
"When I first got there I actually went to visit Tanele," said Martin.
Tanele, the Swazi girl who Martin met back in 2008, is the inspiration behind Hosea's Heart and the mother of a baby named Lucia or baby MK in honor of Martin.
"Baby Lucia was very sick when we got there. She was almost a year old and you could tell it was a big head on this tiny little body. You could tell she was malnourished," said Martin.17773426
But after a stop at the clinic and the grocery store, baby Lucia was back to herself.
"She was laughing and giggling and she's got teeth now," said Martin.
And after reuniting with her Swazi family, it was time to share her student's letters.
"My students in America wrote each of you a letter. They want you to have a friend in America. So they wrote you a letter about themselves and they want to hear from you," Martin told the Swazi students.
"To see their reactions was so incredible. They actually call them love letters because they cherish them that much," said Martin. "They held on to those little pieces of paper, those little envelopes like it was a gift."
She also delivered the soccer ball one La Crescent student donated for a Swazi named Johannes who's battling health problems.
"Zach is the guy who donated the ball. So it's his ball for you and then my students signed it as a get well for you," Martin told Johannes.
"I have always wanted a soccer ball. I hope we can be friends," said Johannes.
"The other major purpose of the trip was the girls' home -- Hope for Life home. We made incredible progress on the home," said Martin.
The home is being completely renovated, all through donated funds, to give young Swazi women like Tanele a safe place to go where they'll have a chance for a future.
"The home is actually projected to open the end of January. So we're kind of going to push for a new year, new hope," said Martin.
As the week came to a close, it was time for Martin to leave one home, to return to the other.
"I was really looking forward to coming back and know the students were excited to receive the letters and hear the stories and see the pictures and videos," said Martin.
"I have some letters back. What I do have back I want to read to you," Martin told her students.
"My name is Sonziso. I am from Swaziland, in Southern Africa. I like to play football," Martin read to the students.
While some things are not so different between Swazis and Americans, not everything lines up.
"Why are you giving dogs names of human beings?" Martin read.
But there's not doubt, special relationships are being formed.
"I am incredibly grateful to get this letter from you and I long to receive another one from you as soon as possible," read Martin.
"I think for some of them, their worlds have already been opened up a bit," said Martin.
And there's no doubt Martin's has as well.
It hasn't always been easy.
"It's hard because I have a heart living in two different worlds," said Martin.
But she's learning, maybe they're not so far apart after all.
"The students here aren't really that different from students there. They all want the same thing. They all want to be noticed. They want to be loved and they want to be told they can do something, that they can be somebody and you don't have to go to Swazi to see that. I can see it here in these students as well," said Martin.
This past summer was the first time Martin took a group over to Swaziland as part of Hosea's Heart.
She says she will continue to take groups over every year.
Hosea's Heart has already raised about $15,000 for the Hope for Life home, but Martin says they still need about another $15,000 to run the home for a year.
If you'd like to donate to Hosea's Heart visit http://www.hoseasheart.org/index.html
You can also learn more about Hosea's Heart on its Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hoseas-Heart/225529970848097?fref=ts
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