Into Africa

Angela Spivey finds meaning half a world away

Published in 2009 Georgia Super Lawyers — March 2009

Five years ago, Angela Spivey wasn't feeling it.

"It was a lack of fulfillment," she says. "You set certain goals in your career: ‘I want to make partner, I want to make equity, I want to do this.' And you conquer them all and then you find yourself still feeling a little unfulfilled. You want something more meaningful."

That impulse led the 36-year-old products liability litigator for McGuireWoods in Atlanta to embark on missionary work in Africa. For the past five years, Spivey has taken a month or more off work to travel to the continent and bring hundreds of pounds of clothes, shoes and relief supplies to poverty- and disease-ridden villagers. Spivey can recall her first trip there.

"You look at these children, and they're so dirty, and they have lesions all over their bodies from the wounds from HIV, or they have TB, so they're coughing all the time," says Spivey, her soft Southern voice accelerating with each bit of reportage. "So when you first get there, you get this skeptical, ‘Oh, don't touch me' type of thing. I think everybody feels that. It's a natural reaction. And they're hesitant. Some of the children have never seen white people in the rural villages we go to. And they spit on your skin and try and rub it really hard because they think you're painted, and they're trying to get the paint off you.

"Then, literally, within two hours these kids have warmed up to you and you've completely forgotten about their physical appearance and condition. All they want is to be hugged and touched."

Since then, Spivey has worked diligently to do whatever she can to help. Her firm and some clients have donated time, resources and money, which has had an immediate impact on villages languishing between survival and death.

"In the villages of Malawi, there's no running water," she says. "There's no electricity, there's no TV, they don't know what the United States is. They don't know what a computer is. ... [So] even when we're not going, we're doing something. We're always collecting clothes that we send with all our short-term missionaries and stuff. Even when I'm not there, it's a continuous process of raising money and awareness and collecting clothes and stuff."

"Stuff" is a word Spivey often uses to punctuate her sentences. To her, "stuff" includes installing water systems, digging irrigation bores, planting crops and administering tests for HIV. She reels off these accomplishments with the impatience of the committed, a mechanic talking nuts and bolts.

Of course, Africa and America are now intertwined more than ever. When news hit that Barack Obama, whose late father belonged to the Luo tribe, had been elected the 44th president of the United States, Spivey's text messages from Kenya started piling up.

"They're very excited," she says, then adds, more soberly: "I was there last year and I left shortly before the Kenyan election. I never in my wildest dreams thought there'd be violence around the [Kenyan] election, but there was. I'm thrilled that they're watching our election process and seeing the transition and heat. It's something they really need to observe. It's what sets our government apart."

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