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Six Degrees of Separation

A Letter from a Michigan Third Grader to an Acehnese Tsunami Victim Gets Worldwide Attention.

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Maggie Hamilton is a third grader of the Charlevoix Elementary School in Northwest Michigan, U.S.A..

Lately, everybody's been reading Maggie's personal correspondence. Everybody, in this case, includes children in tsunami-torn North Sumatra, millions of readers of the Indonesian newspapers, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and U.S. President George W. Bush.

On January 26, 2005, Maggie wrote a letter addressed to the children of Aceh saying, :

"I am sorry for what happened to your country. I have heard something about that. I hope your family and friends are OK. In church, I pray for you and your family. In class we are raising money for your country. ... I will continue to pray for you and your country at church."

Somehow, the letter arrived in the hands of Kuntoro Mangkusuboto, the Chief of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency of Aceh and Nias (BRR) who was so moved by Maggie's sentiments, that he decided to personally deliver it to the children of the Keudeubing Grade School, Lhokngan, Aceh Besar – located some 12 kilometers outside of Aceh’s capital city.

"I was so touched by the letter that I wanted to directly hand it to victims of the tsunami in Aceh and chose the Keudeubing Grade School," explained Kuntoro.

Maggie's letter was given to Nada Luthfiyyah and Mulia Safrinah, two girls of Maggie's age who were victims of the December 26, 2005, tsunami. Nada lost her Mother, Father, and two siblings while Mulia's Father disappeared on that tragic day.

Eager to make new friends and fill a loneliness created by the loss of so many friends and family in the recent disaster, Nada immediately sat down and penned a response to her new-found friend in far-away Michigan, at the same time asking about a home-made friendship bracelet promised to anyone who responded to her letter:

"Hello friend, my name is Nada Luthfiyyah, I enjoyed very much receiving your letter which touched my heart. My family - Father, Mother, brothers and sisters are all gone and I now live with a relation. I hope all of you there are always healthy and happy.

I am very happy to know you are thinking of us there, but I have not yet received the bracelet you've sent. I want to use your bracelet as a symbol of our friendship.

Maybe in a couple of day I will receive your bracelet."

The Plot Thickens

Kuntoro said that when he read the young girl's response he was overcome with emotion and decised to shared copies of both letters with the English-language Jakarta Post, which soon ran a story on the Charlevoix-Aceh connection. This article, in turn, was read by Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who decided to personally bring Nada and Mulia's letters with him on his working visit to the U.S.A. to share with the American public and ask Indonesia's Ambassador Soemadi in Washington to personally deliver the letter and a photo of Nada to Maggie.

Let the Children Lead the Way

On Wednesday, May 25, 2005, President Susilo read Maggie's letter and Nada's response at a Press Conference Held in the East Room of The White House, where he shared with President Bush and the Press a photograph of little Nada.

In commenting on the correspondence, President Susilo said: "These two letters are extraordinary, both in the words they conveyed, and in the fact that two youngsters from entirely different background made a connection: An American girl who prays at church, collects loose change and makes bracelet for tsunami kids two oceans away; an Indonesian Muslim girl who lost all her family, and wants to kill the pain and is eager just to be a kid again, just like Maggie. I think the world will be a better place if all of us start to have connections and conversation the way Maggie and Nada did.”

Maggie, who together with her classmates in Charlevoix, sold bracelets to raise relief funds for the Red Cross has reportedly received phone calls from the world press and The White House - asking if she knew of the international notoriety her correspondence had ignited?

Exhibiting great aplomb for a 9 year-old, Maggie responded: "that's cool."

Those who say the press only reports negative events - take note. At least one major Newspaper daily in Indonesia has carried the story of the girl's correspondence together with a picture of Presidents Bush and Susilo holding up Nada's picture as a page one headline story.

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