84.7 F
Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesV.I. Group Rwanda Bound to Help Children Orphaned by HIV/AIDS Crisis

V.I. Group Rwanda Bound to Help Children Orphaned by HIV/AIDS Crisis

July 7, 2008 — On July 18 a group of Virgin Islanders — 11 students and five adults — will travel to Rwanda in a hands-on effort to help some of the youngsters orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
Rwanda is a small country in the heart of Africa, home to five volcanoes, 23 lakes, 700 silverback gorillas and more than half a million orphans, almost all of whose mothers were HIV/AIDS casualties.
Early this year, a group of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School students approached English and photography teacher Barbara Young about actually meeting Vicky, a Rwandan student for whom they raised funds last December. Young heard of the Rwanda student through her friend and fellow photographer, Sonya Melescu. Last year Melescu spent two months in Rwanda, working with Women for Women International, through whom she sponsors Rwandan women. (See "Rwanda Orphan Gets Another Year in School Thanks to Local Students.")
"At first," Young says, "we talked about bringing Vicky here, but then the idea of going to Rwanda to meet her instead arose."
It was an idea that quickly blossomed. The earnestness of the students inspired Young, but she wasn't sure how she would pull it off.
"The trip would be expensive, and I had no idea how to raise this kind of money on my own, so I called Cecile deJongh for advice," Young says. "Her daughter Rene and my daughter Julie have been classmates and friends for years."
The first lady explained the basics of fund raising, and actually became part of the project herself. The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands is supporting the trip.
"I discovered a shared interest," deJongh says. "I've always wanted to see Africa, and to see it through a child's eyes, to be able help these people who are so desperately in need."
She hopes the trip will help bridge the Atlantic.
"I'm hoping this mission will establish a connection between the Virgin Islands and Rwanda," deJongh says. "They have done a phenomenal job of rebuilding their country. Fourteen years is not a long time. It's amazing after such turmoil and devastation to be able to accomplish this."
Having a good group of young people on board should make the trip a positive one, she says.
"This is a group of fabulous kids, and they are curious," dejongh says. "They want to learn about this other culture. That's what this is all about: taking what talents and blessings we have and sharing them with others."
The Passenger List
The five adults come from all walks of life. First lady Cecil deJongh will travel with her daughter, Rene. Barbara Young, a 25-year Ivanna Eudora Kean High School art and photography teacher, will travel with her daughter, Julie. Wilma Galiber of St. Croix will travel with her daughter, Chelsea. Rounding out the passenger list are Melescu and Shaun Pennington, V.I. Source publisher.
The students have a tough mission; it couldn't be further from a summer trip to Walt Disney World. They have signed agreements to do fund raising, and to write a report on their experiences, to be presented upon their return to groups of their choosing.
"That's part of the deal," deJongh says.
The youngsters have varying reactions to the trip now that it is almost upon them. Artist Sharee Miller, IEK June graduate, won the 28th Congressional Arts Competition this spring. She plans to paint murals at some of the orphanages.
"I'm really not sure about what I will paint," Miller says. "It will depend on my experience, and I will come up with an idea from that. I'll bring my sketchbook and my camera."
She will also work with Cards From Africa, an organization created to generate income for Rwandan women.
"I expect to be emotional seeing that kind of poverty," says IEK student Sterelina Warner. "I have seen Sonya's picture and I cried. I imagine I'll need lots of tissues there."
Melescu made a powerful DVD of her travels in Rwanda last year. Starting with the somber image of Denyse, an 11-year-old orphan she took under her wing last year, Melescu has captured the spirit of the villagers she came to know in her stay there. The documentary is not pretty, except for the smiles of the villagers and the incredibly beautiful countryside. It shows the skeletons, and bloodied clothing hanging on a clothesline. Its message cannot be mistaken: "Please help."
In a fund-raising effort, Melescu has shown the video to organizations and schools since early this year. The organizers say they don't want to talk about donors, but they will say they are overwhelmingly grateful for the community which has, in both public and private sectors, come out in strong support.
The Itinerary
The group has a packed agenda, starting from the moment they step off the plane in Kigali on July 20 and head off to the Genocide Memorial, until their Aug. 4 departure.
They will start helping out at the Rebero Orphan Center, visiting the Amizero, Benimpuhwe and Imbabazi orphanages through the next days. Pennington says the travelers will bring with them and purchase in the country toys, mosquito netting (malaria is a constant threat), mattresses, clothes, diapers, plastic sheeting and pacifiers.
"We are having 70 school uniforms made by the Women for Women organization for the Rebero Orphan Center," Pennington says.
A bonus of the students' labors will be a look at the famed silverback gorillas in northern Rwanda's Virunga National Park, some of only 700 of the creatures left on the planet, Pennington says.
The last of the fund-raising efforts here in the territory is a dinner this week at Oceana Restaurant. Owner Patricia LaCorte is opening the restaurant to Dinner and a Cause from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The evening will feature elaborate hors d'oeuvres by LaCorte, and the organization will donate all proceeds to the Rwanda trip.
Melescu will show her video and give a glimpse of the upcoming adventure. Anyone is welcome to attend by calling LaCorte at 774-4262.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.