HARRISON, N.Y. - Reverend Rai Paparatti's Harrison home has rooms of boxes stacked to the ceiling full of glasses, eye drops, and other assorted supplies ready for donation. They only have to travel 7,700 miles before the boxes are ripped open.
Paparatti is a Harrison native and the founder of the Malawi Initiative and will head to the South African country for the fourth time in August. He and about eight others including retired teachers and volunteers travel to Malawi annually for two weeks to build churches and schools while supplying locals with medical relief, water wells, and assistance.
"There is no greater feeling than to have an effect on so many people for something you enjoy doing," Paparatti said. "It sucks you in. I've wanted to go back since my first trip there."
The Malawi Initiative focuses on faith, hope, and love during its stay in Africa. Every year they work to influence as many villages as possible with things like eye clinics to combat the intense dust in the region, to school and church construction, plus leadership training.
"When we leave, we know we influenced a village," Paparatti said. "We're changing lives and giving hope."
The organization has been successful so that each year more supplies come in and are dispersed throughout the summer. Items are typically donated from local businesses and residents throughout the year. Boxes of glasses were donated to the project courtesy of the New Jersey Lion's Club.
"While we're in Malawi, people would sometimes ask me why I'm helping there," Paparatti said. "I always say it's because 'God loves you.'"
This year the trip is scheduled to leave August 3 and plans on assisting four villages with about 3,000 people per village.
While working in the country one year, a Malawi resident asked Paparatti if it was true that American buffets existed with as much food as anyone could stomach. His disbelief brought perspective to the Reverend.
"Africa is like nowhere else," he said. "It is so extreme and it changes how you look at everything."
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