Hebron Academy teacher helping orphanage she started in Africa

HEBRON -When Janet Littlefield talks about her children, her arms reach across the world to embrace them.

Three years ago, Littlefield established an orphanage in Malawi, a southern African nation facing crippling poverty, political corruption, and inadequate access to education and health care.

The children are orphaned at alarming rates as their parents succumb to HIV infection and other deadly diseases like malaria. Government statistics put the average life span in the country at 41.

Littlefield was a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi in 1998 and ’99, and after returning to the United States to teach, she sent money to a Malawian friend to build the orphanage in a village. Since then, she has been helping to fund it with part of the paycheck she earns as a science teacher at Hebron Academy.

But as the number of orphans has grown to 50, increasing the need for food, medicine and school supplies, the 30-year-old native Mainer needs help to continue the cause. “It has gotten bigger than I can really handle, I think,” Littlefield said Friday between classes at the academy.

There are currently about 1 million orphans in Malawi, she said. Littlefield is dedicated to helping as many as possible, and she knew that part of her paycheck wasn’t going to be nearly enough.

“I needed to learn business skills,” she said. A month ago, she established Friends of Littlefield Orphanage, a nonprofit organization that will help raise money for the orphanage. She also organized a four-mile walk-a-thon on May 7 that starts at Hebron Academy to raise funds.

She hopes the walk-a-thon can raise $5,000 so orphanage caretakers can purchase a mini-bus and establish a local taxi service that will provide a steady income for food, supplies, medicine, and additional teachers. “No one has vehicles so everyone has to travel by bus,” she explained. “It’s so empowering to be self-sufficient; that’s what they need.”

She will return to Malawi in June for three weeks to visit the orphanage for the first time and two Hebron students tentatively plan to join her. She said she is hoping to take five or six students and have them gain perspective on how truly lucky they are to live in a wealthy country like America.

“I think people sometimes try to find happiness by accumulating things,” she said. “It’s really more about what you do, how you do it, and how you treat people.”

She has already begun involving Hebron students in the orphanage. Earlier this year, students sewed blankets for the children and sent them gifts.

But she wants students to spend time in the country to learn the lessons she did. “Life is really simple. It’s about helping other people,” she said.

She plans to have Hebron students instruct the Malawian children in English and talk to them about nutrition, and also do some fun stuff including a safari. “I hope they’ll get a lot of joy helping these kids,” she said.

Anyone is welcome to participate in the May 7 walk-a-thon or support those who are walking. For more information on the walk-a-thon or the Friends of Littlefield Orphanage, contact Littlefield via e-mail at [email protected] or call her at 966-2043.

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