Finding friends in distant places


I Will Always Write Back: How one letter changed two lives by Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch

Learning about the rest of the world is no longer as difficult as it used to be. You can easily read the news from around the world, make friends through social media, and watch foreign films online.

It’s rare, though, for a deep friendship like Caitlin’s and Martin’s to spring up out of nowhere. Caitlin comes from an upper middle class family in Pennsylvania; Martin lives in a slum in Zimbabwe. They connect through a pen pal project, and, months after the other kids have given up, they keep writing. Throughout their teen years, they stay in touch, despite barriers. Over time, Caitlin (and her family) do more than write letters – they begin supporting Martin’s education and his family. They have never been rich, but when Martin’s father loses his job and the economy implodes, Martin’s family can no longer afford to send him to school. With the high inflation affecting the economy, they can barely afford food to eat. Martin has a strong will to survive and succeed, and his friendship with Caitlin and her family gives him opportunities, although it’s not without a lot of work and disappointment along the way.

It’s a true story, one I think might open the eyes of a few young people. Even with the 24/7 globally-connected world, kids don’t always have a way to actually meet someone from across the globe or learn about what they might experience in their daily lives. It’s nice to see how Caitlin transforms when she begins to realize what a difference she can make in Martin’s life, how Martin’s persistence and hard work is ultimately rewarded, and how their friendship deepens as they grow up and try to figure out who they want to be.

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