Vickroy: Andrew grad helps orphans battling AIDS
DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 July 27, 2012 6:42PM
For more information on Building a Global Community, visit buildingaglobal
For more information on the Botshabelo orphanage, visit botshabelo.org. Also, the documentary “Angels in the Dust” tells the story of Botshabelo.
Updated: August 30, 2012 6:07AM
There are an estimated 1.2 million children in South Africa who have been orphaned because of AIDS.
In 1990, Afrikaners Marion and Con Cloete decided something needed to be done to help them. They used their life savings to buy a farm and open the Botshabelo orphanage near Johannesburg.
Today, the orphanage is home to 100 AIDS orphans year round; another 150 get periodic assistance. The Cloetes get help from international groups that send teams of volunteers to aid with construction, farming and other hands-on projects.
Among the recent volunteers was Allison Miles-Sackett, 25, a graduate of Andrew High School in Tinley Park, who spent 19 days rehabbing a run-down section of the orphanage. During her visit, she also toured the country and fell in love with the children.
“It was amazing,” Miles-Sackett said. “I’m totally sold on this philosophy of teaching sustainability.”
She’s already planning her return trip.
“Once you do this, you’re stuck,” she said. “I’m definitely going back.”
Miles-Sackett learned about Botshabelo through Building a Global Community, a nonprofit group started by Angela DeCraene and Jennifer Fleming in 2007. Fleming’s brother is principal of Oster-Oakview School in New Lenox, where Miles-Sackett did her student teaching.
On July 2, Miles-Sackett was one of 12 volunteers, all from the southwest suburban area, who flew to South Africa. At Botshabelo, they helped knock down a roof, tear apart beams and stack bricks. They were careful to preserve as many materials as possible for reuse.
“It’s all about being smart with resources,” she said.
South Africa is second only to Nigeria in terms of its AIDS orphan population.
Upon her arrival, Miles-Sackett said, the volunteers were briefed on how to care for themselves while mingling with the children. They were told it’s OK to hug and kiss the youngsters.
“But no lip kissing,” she said with a chuckle.
“These kids have so much resilience,” she said. “They are the happiest kids, no complaints even though they have no material goods. They’re so happy because they have love, attention and care. They really have everything.”
Though the volunteers slept most nights at the Bundu Inn, they spent their last week lodging at the orphanage. During that time, Miles-Sackett said, there were two talent shows in which the children danced and sang.
“I know I was only there a short time but I became attached to a bunch of the kids,” she said.
She was impressed by their resourcefulness. One boy made moveable toy cars out of wire and another made his own hula hoop.
Miles-Sackett raised $4,000 to pay for her transportation, food and expenses. Next year, she said, she hopes to organize a fundraiser at the Plainfield school where she works as a fifth-grade language arts teacher.
Because she has a gluten intolerance, she brought a lot of her own food. When she ran out of gluten-free bagels and bread, she made lettuce wraps.
On her last day in South Africa, her hosts served a dinner of chicken claws.
“We watched one of the daughters demonstrate how to break the claw, peel apart the fingers and chew the meat off,” Miles-Sackett said. “You hear the knuckles cracking.”
For world-traveling humanitarians, trying new foods just comes with the territory.
Her journey was filled with all kinds of new experiences, including a hot-air balloon ride at sunrise and three nights of stargazing while visiting Lesotho, a tiny landlocked country entirely within South Africa where there is no electricity.
But by far, she said, the most rewarding part of the trip was the time she spent at Botshabelo.
“My passion is helping others. I also love traveling. So to be able to combine both is great,” she said.
In high school, she worked as a day-camp counselor at Bremen Youth Services, where she befriended a single mom and her five children. The family asked her to be their nanny, even though the woman couldn’t afford to pay her. The experience opened her eyes to the needs of those less fortunate.
“I had such a good upbringing,” she said. “Until then, I didn’t realize how hard others had it.”
And, she added, how easy it is to help.