For 17 year-old Alamo resident Steven Primasing, a trip to Malawi, Africa, turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.

The De La Salle High School junior traveled with a group from Children of the Nations (COTN), and he told me the experience has changed him forever.

"Although my original mission was to help the children and their families, they ended up helping me more than I could ever help them," said Steven, who was able to raise $4,400 for the trip, which he accomplished through a personal letter-writing campaign to family and friends, who were eager to help out.

Steven learned about the organization through his cousin, Fraser Ratzlaff, 28, of Seattle, who works for COTN and invited him to be part of a team of 10.

Steven told me that although he didn't speak the language of the region, which is Chichewa, he was able to form a bond that did not require talking. "I grew especially close to twin boys, Jisomo and Blessings, and have since financially adopted them and for only $32 a month. These children now have access to basic medical care, an education and a meal a day," added Steven, who noted that there are still hundreds of children who need sponsors.

"To support one kid is to literally save their life. After seeing such malnourishment, it is hard to pick up a fork, coming back home," he said, adding that the impact of the experience has made him want to return next year and he hopes to raise the money again.

"I met one boy whose stomach was so distended that it deformed him and he walked with a limp and with his potbelly, any common virus or cold could be fatal," said Steven, who hopes that by reaching out to the community, it will shed some light on the plight of COTN and enable more children to be sponsored. Steven is especially looking forward to seeing Jisomo and Blessings and many of the other orphans upon his return.

"They were the highlight of my trip, and seeing the smiles on their faces is something I cannot and will not forget," he said. The website for COTN is www.cotni.org. Steven told me he'd be happy to answer questions about sponsorships and walk people through the process if they are interested in becoming a sponsor as well. He can be reached at sprimasing@gmail.com.

Fraser told me that having Steven along was a wonderful experience for him, as he got to see how Steven reacted to the children and the poverty in Malawi with such a positive attitude and outcome. "It was a joy to watch him instantly connect with the children in the villages, organizing impromptu kickball games, taking photos with his iPhone and just holding the younger ones. I think this experience will stay with him for life. It was just amazing to see him immediately connect with those children, and I think Steven has the potential to become a true advocate for these children back home. I think he's going to make a great dad someday," said Fraser, in an email he wrote to me.

Steven has, in fact, already talked to some of his friends about coming along on the incredible journey next year. So, while this young man is busy with high school life, studying and playing rugby, Steven can now add "advocate" to his list of activities. "To see these children so joyous when dealt such a poor hand truly humbled me, and I can't wait to return," said Steven.

Contact Caterina Mellinger at aroundalamo@hotmail.com.