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Published: September 13th 2008
Why am I traveling to a tiny country surrounded by South Africa? Why now?
Here's the deal: It started when I was President of Tacoma 8 Rotary in 2005. Our club hosted a team of business persons on a study exchange from South Africa. They stayed in Tacoma for a week and my husband Rick and I hosted a team member. I worked at Point Defiance Zoological Society at the time, and provided a behind the scenes tour so the five of them could see polar bears and beluga whales up close. The leader of the group, Frances, was from White River, a community near the southern part of Kruger National Park. She extended an invitation for us to visit if we could. I figured perhaps one day I would accompany a Zoo staff and donor group there for a photo safari. One of the team members, Guguluthu, was a HIV/AIDS nurse from Swasiland. Her presentation to our club mentioned that they shared the grim statistics with Lesotho of having one third of their population HIV positive. So, when I was invited to breakfast by Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma six months later to hear about an outreach to an area in Africa affected by HIV/AIDS, I accepted. He and Pastor Dean Curry, businessmen and city councilmen Kevin Phelps and Ken Grassi, had traveled to Lesotho on a World Vision trip. Since I knew all of them, I joined the steering committee of what was being formed as a collaborative effort to make a difference in one place where vulnerable children needed help. Two months later, I was named Director of The Humane Society, so figured that sponsoring a child in Lesotho was as close as I would get to a trip to Africa.
What is GNP?
The Global Neighbor Project started in 2006 as the city of Tacoma, with assistance from the mayor and other city leaders, embraced the community of Sekameng in Lesotho, which has a nearly 30 percent HIV infection rate among adults. Through both church-based and community activities, the Global Neighbor Project has raised well over $100,000 for a wide-range of services helping families as well as orphans and vulnerable children, including health care, clean water, and education to help protect children’s rights reduce the stigma of AIDS. World Vision administers these services.
GNP has become an extraordinary outreach to the Tacoma community involving the Tacoma Symphony, elected officials, the city’s daily and weekly newspapers, and others. More than one-third of Life Center’s congregation of 3500 alone has contributed financially to the project and the church has hosted two trips to Lesotho. Rabbi Bruce Kadden of Temple Beth El has also garnered support for the project and is an active member of the committee. Global Neighbor Project has done an extraordinary job engaging the community of Tacoma and the surrounding Puget Sound community, including:
• Hosting the World Vision Experience Africa: AIDS exhibit
• Partnering with the Tacoma Symphony present two benefit 4th of July concerts;
• Engaging local businesses in a “Shop for a Cause” event; and
• Promoting World Vision Child Sponsorship and Caregiver Kit support for Lesotho at the annual Singing Christmas Tree production at Life Center Church as well as engaging other churches and the synagogue in the project.
Global Neighbor Project has created a model for international service. Utilizing leadership in business, politics, and service clubs, the arts, and educational sector in Tacoma, Global Neighbor Project has put a small community in Lesotho on the map and through them a window in the devastation of AIDS and the reason for Hope. We met our goal of getting 1003 children sponsored through World Vision and enough funding to provide 900 school desks, adequate caregiver kits and assistance with setting up families with seeds, chickens and access to water.
Global Neighbor Project was honored in August for Outstanding Involvement and Effectiveness in the Fight Against AIDS as a recipient of the Courageous Leadership Award 2008 given by Willow Creek Association. This award includes a cash prize in support of our project. We have reached our goal of $50,000 and another 300 children sponsored ($35 a month for each child).
“Members from all sectors of society are invited to engage in the fight against AIDS by donating time, talent, and resources. We feel the best way to capture our community is to educate and inspire our leaders,” said Life Center Pastor Dean Curry, who helped launch the Global Neighbor Project and was presented the award by Willow Creek.
Pastor Dean had asked me to be Chairperson for the group in 2008, succeeding Kevin Phelps and Ken Grassi. He invited me to join a World Vision Trip returning to Sekameng to check out how the funding we provided in 2007 was being utilized and what was needed next. Since much of my travel expense was being covered, I convinced my husband Rick that he needed to accompany me on what should be a life changing trip. I contacted Rotarian Frances Hyson, and she offered to host our group of five at her lodge, even meeting us at the airport and taking us on a day trip to Kruger. So, we added three days in Nelspruit/White River/Kruger to the itinerary.
On the homefront
We recruited a team to join the Pierce County AIDS Foundation annual fundraising walk in Tacoma on September 6, demonstrating our support for families impacted by this dreadful disease in our own neighborhood as well. We carried our World Vision banner and raised several hundred dollars for local programs that day.
We are allowed 50 pounds per bag, two bags each. By packing light, the five of us should be able to get latex exam gloves and toothbrushes that were donated by Burkhart Dental Supply, school supplies, soccer balls and Immodium our group has gathered and some hard candies to the area for distribution.
Bob Bowen (Bellevue Rotary) is our World Vision leader. Julie Nordlund and Michelle Cox are the other two members of the team. Julie is a volunteer at Life Christian Academy and Michelle is ED of Life Center, which means she is in charge of admin staff.
The adventure begins with the 10-hour flight to Amsterdam then 10-hour flight to Johannesberg starting Sunday, September 21.
So, now that you know the story -- watch this space!
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