Alifirenka, Caitlin and Martin Ganda. I will always write back : how one letter changed two lives. Little, Brown and Company, 2015.
Daytime MBA 2014 alumnus Martin Ganda is president and co-founder of Seeds Of Africa Foundation, a scholarship fund for promising yet impoverished students in Zimbabwe, a resource to enable them to achieve their academic dreams. Martin’s organization is a way of giving back, as he spent his early years as an impoverished boy in rural Zimbabwe. When he reaches school age, Martin’s mother makes clear that education is his only road out of poverty. He excels as a student yet his opportunities are few. Eight years later, he is matched with a pen pal, a 12 year old girl from Pennsylvania, and his destiny changes.
I Will Always Write Back, is Martin’s new book, the story of how he and his co-author Caitlin Alifirenka began their correspondence as a school assignment, and then continued for 6 years, developing a close friendship. Written in two voices, alternating between Caitlin and Martin, the story begins in Zimbabwe, where Martin and his family share a four room house with another family, 12 people in all. He attends school in a crowded classroom, four students to a desk meant for one. Each day the teacher brings in four textbooks to share with all students.
Martin’s environment is desperately poor, but his correspondence with Caitlin shows him how life could be different. He stays focused on academic achievement and receives top grades on national exams. He earns a scholarship at the best private school in Zimbabwe, a residential school that leads to a university.
Meanwhile Caitlin’s life focuses on her friends, crushes on boys and shopping at the mall, although the shallowness may be a deliberate choice to highlight the contrast. Caitlin sends Martin a photograph and asks him for one in return. For Martin a photograph is prohibitively expensive, but his mother sacrifices the only family photo she owns, taken when Martin scored highest on a national placement test in school. Then Caitlin sends him a dollar, which in Zimbabwe is enough to buy family groceries for two weeks. After she sends him a Reebok T-shirt, Martin carries luggage at the bus station for tips for two months to buy her a pair of earrings.
After a few years, Caitlin begins to understand Martin’s hardship and the issue of poverty in general. As conditions in Zimbabwe deteriorate, she sends him her earnings from babysitting. With her mother’s help, she sends large boxes of clothing and supplies. A few years later, Caitlin’s mother helps Martin through the U.S. college application process, working with university administrators at many schools until she secures a full scholarship for him to Villanova.
There are many to admire in this book, especially Martin Ganda. He, his mother and Caitlin’s mother all set high goals and are determined to meet them. They work hard despite significant obstacles and in the end are rewarded with success. Life is significantly better for Martin and his family at the end of the book. This inspiring work is recommended for all readers.
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