Celebrating 15 years

IMG_2356Dear Friends,

It was 15 years ago when I first stepped onto Zimbabwean soil and met the children of Tsungirirai Orphan Care Centre. It was a time when having HIV was still a death sentence. In America, the new antiretroviral (ARV) drugs showed promise, but it would be years before most African countries could afford them.

The country was being ravished by AIDS—32% of the adult population was HIV positive and UNICEF estimated that 25% of children were living in a family with at least one HIV+ parent. Funding was low and need was high. Tsungirirai provided food and educational support for 400 children and there were at least 100 more on the wait list. A professor of mine said he was afraid working in Zimbabwe might feel like re-arranging chairs on the Titanic.

But I had to try. For me it was personal. I had lost my own father to HIV just a year earlier, and I knew what it was like to grow up in a community deeply impacted by HIV.  I wanted to help other children who had lost parents, no matter how hard it might be.

And so what started as an 8-month volunteer placement, grew into another year abroad, and then turned into a nonprofit organization. In that time, little Shadreck has sprouted a beard, Delight has had a child, Jane’s graduated from Mount Holyoke, and Lisbon has opened his own garage. We have celebrated countless graduations and enjoy seeing how many of the “children” are giving back to their communities and families.

Over the past decade, access to ARV drugs has changed the course of the epidemic, even in Zimbabwe. Today, 50% of people who are HIV+ are on treatment.

In 1987, the life expectancy of a Zimbabwean born with HIV was 18 months. Today it is 22 years. This is amazing progress.

And yet it’s bittersweet. When I look though old photos from my first trip, I see so many faces full of hope and promise—mothers with dreams of seeing their children finish school and make a difference in the world, boys who aspired to be professional soccer players, and young readers who could not wait to start the next Harry Potter book. Those children are grown now—one excited reader is a computer programmer in South Africa and one smiling soccer player is studying engineering at Tufts—but many of their mothers are gone.

In December I heard story after story of our young adults succeeding in school, landing scholarships, internships and jobs. They are becoming the adults their parents hoped and dreamed they would be. When I spend time with C4C kids, I often share pictures and tell stories about their parents. Obviously stories are no substitute for the real thing, but there’s something comforting about knowing that parents can live on through their children.

Today I write with a feeling of hope and gratitude for the medical advances, the resiliency of children, and the support from all of you.

Thank you for all you’ve done to keep C4C alive over these 15 years.

Arden

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