Peace Corps veteran Laura Oldanie decided to join her parents on an aid trip to Malawi for both personal and professional reasons.
"I do have this concern for my parents, who have not traveled extensively to developing countries,'' said Oldanie, 38, who says she has traveled to developing countries in Africa a few times. "I wanted to take my slightly more developed travel skills and make their lives easier and make my life easier so I won't be worried.''
Besides, as program director for the nonprofit Committee for Economic Development, in Washington, D.C., her professional interests lie in education. So going to Malawi will give her a chance to share her thoughts about the importance of early-childhood education and development with business leaders there.
Thursday she and her parents, Chuck and Betty Oldanie of Seminole, will set off for the southern African country. They expect to arrive on Saturday.
Chuck Oldanie, a real estate agent and 15-year Habitat for Humanity volunteer, said he will explore the possibility of a working relationship between Malawi and American Rotary clubs that will build houses for the poor in one of the world's least developed countries. His wife, Betty, vice president of planning for the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast and a registered nurse, plans to meet with health care professionals. She wants to help with palliative and end-of-life care programs.
Chuck Oldanie tried to establish a combined Habitat for Humanity and Seeds of Peace effort with Indian and Pakistani volunteers. When that fell through, he started looking at other countries and decided on Malawi. That was after some friends, the former youth minister at Christ Presbyterian Church in Largo, the Rev. Stephen Heinzel-Nelson and his wife, Liz, moved there with their children for a temporary ministry.
"That piqued my interest and I started checking with Habitat and Rotary in Malawi. I started asking questions: Is there a need?'' said Chuck Oldanie, 67.
"We're just trying to establish a relationship for a joint-build with U.S.A. Rotarians and Malawi Rotarians with an interfaith setting. We're just interested in peace building with other nations."
His wife will focus on health care in Malawi, a country with a high mortality rate from AIDS.
"I want to see and observe and understand how health care is delivered to those who are dying or in need of palliative care and I'll have the opportunity to see that first hand as I make home visits,'' said Mrs. Oldanie, 66.
"I'll learn how they bring comfort to those whose symptoms are out of control when they have so few of the medications which we will traditionally use. And how are people handling the multiple losses.''
Betty Oldanie said she'll also visit a hospice about 30 minutes from where the family will be staying and do some prison ministry with their friends in Malawi.
The Seminole couple and their daughter, whose previous job was with the National Council on Economic Education, will also visit two early childhood development sites affiliated with Save the Children.
In preparation for their journey, the family has gotten malaria pills, hepatitis, tetanus and typhoid shots, taken out medical evacuation insurance and registered online with the U.S. Embassy in Malawi.
Laura Oldanie, who served in the Peace Corps in Poland for three years, has gotten over her initial shock at her parents' plans and is "very, very pleased'' with their mission.
"It certainly didn't seem unfitting with our family credo,'' she said.
For Betty Oldanie, who has watched local hospice staff travel to their sister hospice in South Africa, the trip will satisfy a yearning to help. Her family has "a heart for service,'' she said.
"That's been part of our history. We get much more in return than we give,'' her husband said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727)892-2283.