Ever since she was a little girl, Asia Howlett has dreamed of visiting every continent on earth. So when her good friend Anna Kleven invited her on a trip to Malawi, Asia jumped at the opportunity.
The girls were on an adventure to visit Anna’s aunt and uncle, Comboni Lay Missionaries Jacob and Tonya Kleven. From 2013 to 2018 the Kleven family worked in Lilongwe, Malawi, helping at the local parish, schools, and orphanage. Their daughters Lilliana and Josi attended the local school and helped on mission. The Klevens also adopted a little girl, Amari, during their time in Malawi. They have since returned home to Wisconsin, still sharing their mission every day.
It was on this trip that Asia first encountered Nyumba Ya Chimwemwe (which translates to House of Joy from Chichewa), an orphanage in Malawi run by the Missionaries of Charity. Asia and Anna spent hours volunteering at the orphanage – playing with the kids, feeding the babies, and showing them God’s love by simply spending time with the children.
“I really loved volunteering in the orphanage. It was super humbling and amazing,” Asia recalled. “They are so content with everything they have, which sometimes is not much. We tend to take things for granted. They appreciate what they have. I miss that for sure.”
After a two-week stay in Malawi, Asia returned home to Wisconsin inspired by the children she met at House of Joy.
As a senior at Evansville High School, Asia has to complete a service learning project in order to graduate. She knew right away that she wanted to do something for the kids in Malawi.
“I will forever be changed by what I saw there, mostly by the orphans I grew to love. That experience propelled my senior project,” Asia wrote in an appeal for support.
Orphans in Malawi face difficult challenges. If they are not adopted before age 7, the children are considered unadoptable and must be returned to a family member or enter a group home.
Tonya Kleven worked in the preschool at House of Joy and explained the process:
“When they can’t find permanent placement, the sisters basically long term adopt (it’s actually more akin to guardianship). Then the sisters that run the orphanage, work to secure funding for boarding school for the older children.”
At House of Joy there are three such children.
Recognizing the importance of education, Asia set out to raise enough money to pay for one year of tuition for the entire orphanage, and even more schooling for the older girls. In Malawi, the literacy rate is only 65.8 percent, and only 33 percent of children attend high school. Asia knows the value of a good education, and wanted all the children of House of Joy to receive the education they so desperately need and deserve.
With a passion burning in her heart for the children of Malawi, Asia got to work. She went to local businesses asking for donations. Asia even gathered old cell phones and ink cartridges to recycle for cash.
It wasn’t long before Asia collected nearly $3,000 for House of Joy!
That money is being used to pay for three trimesters of school for the three older “unadoptable” girls, one year of schooling for the entire orphanage, mosquito nets for each child, and additional funds for groceries and diapers.
While education is important for each child, a mosquito net can be life-saving. Tonya explained that in Malawi, and most African countries, sleeping beneath a mosquito net is essential to reduce the risk of Malaria. At House of Joy, not every child had a mosquito net. Beds were lined up, and one net was often stretched to cover two beds. Now, thanks to Asia, each child can sleep comfortably without fear of a mosquito bite.
Asia’s kindness and desire to help has now inspired others. Her Aunt Tara’s church class wanted to do something for the children at House of Joy too. With a little help from a cousin in Utah, the aunt and her class made yarn dolls for the orphanage. It didn’t end there. Tara’s daughter was so excited about the project, she told her friends at school. Then her class wanted to help. They now have dozens of dolls to send to House of Joy.
Throughout the rest of 2019, the Comboni Missionaries in North America, along with people like Asia, are making education the center of a mission fundraising project. Learn more at www.combonimissionaries.org/mission-projects.