A summer trip to Zambia was a heart-wrenching experience that at least three teens say they'd absolutely repeat.
"We could never really prepare for the people we saw; so much pain, so much joy," said Clayton Valley Charter High School graduate Lauren Valory, 18. "The people had such a big impact on me. How can they be so happy if they have so little? They made me realize happiness is not about things."
"I had heard it's an incredible experience. I wanted to see what it was like, to get a true experience and learn what the people need," said Clayton Valley Charter student Hayley Herrera, 17.
Valory and Herrera were among the nine-member group of teens and adults from Clayton Community Church who embarked on a World Vision two-week trip in July to distribute mosquito nets, check on fresh water wells and medical clinics that are part of the two organizations' ongoing efforts to help eradicate malaria in the region.
The church raised $76,000 earmarked for the purchase of insecticide-treated mosquito nets.
Over the last 10 years, the nets have been proven a technically cost-effective tool in the acceleration of malaria prevention and treatment in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization.
Expanding net distribution and usage along with indoor residual spraying with insecticides and random preventive treatment for pregnant women also has reduced the estimated number of malaria-caused deaths from about 985,000 in 2000 to some 660,000 in 2010, according to WHO.
Just one story
Valory recalls listening to a mother's story.
"Her name was Currant. She told us about her daughter ... she knew down to the minute when she died."
"The first hour, I noticed her walking around with her hand on her head," Currant tells the group gathered to hear what is called an "impact" story.
When Currant asked her daughter if she could do anything for her, the child responded, "No, no I just want some porridge."
The mother made it and fed the girl.
"Are you feeling better?" she asked.
"No. I just want porridge," the child responded again.
The girl lay down and was struck with excruciating cramps. Currant's husband was away working, so she asked a neighbor to watch her other children, and picked up her daughter and began carrying her to a facility about a mile from their home.
"By the time she gets to the facility, her daughter ends up dying on the table," said Valory. "It's heartbreaking. The woman is crying. You can see the pain in her face. She is breast-feeding her baby and her daughter just died from malaria."
Those participating in the missions are told not to show great emotion, but Valory looked around and saw even the leaders were unable to check the tears that welled in their eyes.
"We are supposed to bring hope that tomorrow is a new day," said Valory. "I didn't know what to do. I hugged the woman and I learned her husband has malaria. We are not sure how bad it is."
"It was a hard day for all of us." she recalled.
But the memory stayed with Valory and the others. It is motivation to get help to send more nets and spray, and to get more medical clinics closer to those who need them.
Information on mosquito nets from the President's Malaria Initiative report for the fiscal year 2013 plan for Zambia indicates more than 64 percent of households owned such nets in 2010.
But any easing of the efforts by the initiative launched in 2005 alongside national governments, the Global Fund, the World Bank and numerous nongovernment organizations, could undo the achievements toward eradicating the deadly mosquito-born illness.
On the church trip, Valory and Herrera said were most struck by the joy of the people, despite the number of malaria deaths.
Herrera remembered one of their trips into the bush and visiting a school.
"Some of the children have never seen a white person in their life. They would cry, scared of you," she said. "Even some of the adults had never seen a white person, but they weren't scared."
She said the children ran their fingers through her long blond hair and braided it.
She recalled times when children would run up to greet them and teach them different dances and games they played, and how special it was to meet the little girl her family sponsors.
"That was incredible. Probably the best part of the trip," said Herrera. "One of the World Vision leaders told the girl I was coming. The whole village came out to greet me. There was about 50 or 60 people dancing, singing. They formed a circle around me."
The youngest member of the group -- Clayton Valley Charter junior Nicki Verduzco, 16 -- said she waited two years to go. Her mother had gone and after seeing all the pictures and hearing the stories, "I really wanted to go and experience it myself."
"We went to four or five different communities and then on our last two days we visited Victoria Falls and went on a safari."
She said that on one of their community visits their vehicle was stopped while elephants crossed the road.
"We couldn't get past," she said. "It was awesome. You look out the window and elephants are everywhere."
The feeling of helplessness was the worst part of the trip, said Herrera and Valory. Despite that, the overriding memory was the joy and delight of meeting and being with the people.
"I'd go back in a heartbeat," said Verduzco. "The people, the experience like the women we talked to that broke my heart."
Before the trip, Verduzco recalled a lot of people asking why she just didn't send money.
"Well, if you could see these people's faces, the look on their faces is priceless; something you never forget."
"It is the most incredible thing I have ever done in my entire life," said Herrera.