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Hope is the Spark that Changes Lives

Today is my birthday. 

Another year in this crazy, beautiful, broken, and exciting world. What a gift!  I sit here, reflecting on the past three months spent visiting AFCA’s programs in various countries.  I visited hospitals which receive medical supplies and equipment from us.  I visited children in their schools and orphanages to make sure they are healthy and learning.  I spent time with elderly guardians, inquiring about their health, needs, and dreams for the children they are raising.  I played with countless children, listening to their stories and paying attention to their dreams. I wrote various budgets for new programs, plans for expansion, and reporting formats for new projects.  I drank tea and coffee with project coordinators, thinking of ways to make the projects even better, so that they can serve even more children and other community members.  I got sick, went to a hospital for care and got better.  I ate everything from sadza and mopani worms to ugali, matoke, and warthog.  I saw incredible sunsets, thousands and thousands of bats, held newborns wrapped in blankets made by AFCA volunteers, rode for hours and hours and HOURS in cars, buses and planes.  I led two volunteer teams and together, we transformed an orphanage and school with paint and hard work.  What an amazing summer!

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It is a known fact that United States is seen around the world as a country with a “poor” diet. Following the first world pace and trends, people tend to fall into poor eating habits. Eating rituals begins to revolve around convenience for some, while for others, it is simply a matter of their budget. It is safe to say that nowadays more people choose to eat out (whether it’s fast food, or a full on wine and dine restaurant) mostly due to its convenience, and partially due to lack of time to cook. Most people believe that they don’t have enough time to cook meals from scratch even if it’s only a couple of times a week. You can see that grocery lists become more filled with “ready to eat” meals, frozen pre-made dinners, canned meals etc. Typically, that kind of ‘diet’ is high in fats, sodium, calories and preservatives.

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I am a mom of three, a worker, a wife, a friend, a daughter, sister, aunt, and friend.  I am a busy person and somedays, I can’t seem to get much done. How many times have I vowed to make a change, start a new diet, get my finances on track, declutter, be more intentional… the list goes on and on. 

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Bulawayo, Zimbabwe ~

Primrose. Precious. Blossom.

All names that describe the beautiful girls at horse therapy I meet today. All of them with cerebral palsy and all of them affected slightly differently by it. Some of the children here today are very verbal, others can’t speak at all. Some can’t walk and must be carried and placed on their horse, with a person walking the horse and a coach on each side. Some are able to hold themselves up. I walk besides those because I am just learning.

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The outdoor industry has been a long-time support of AFCA’s life-saving work. We work to provide sustainable programing for kids who are infected and affected by AIDS. AFCA’s major fundraisers include Climb Up So Kids Can Grow Up and Vacation with a Purpose. The Climb Up program takes teams who have committed to and met a fundraising goal on adventure trips like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

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Representative John Lewis tweeted last Monday about HIV/AIDS and the impact of the epidemic. Rep. Lewis has said that “HIV/AIDS is not a disease that discriminates. It affects all of us—our friends, our family, our neighbors. We must fight this together.” In this global community, the American Foundation for Children with AIDS (AFCA) tirelessly works to support those hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic: the children who are infected and/or affected. Our blog relays countless stories of lives impacted through our work at hospitals, schools, and with community programs.

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I listen to the sounds of children playing soccer, arguing about rules, and celebrating goals. Paper crinkling under ladders and the smell of fresh paint and turpentine accost me from the other side, interrupted by the sound of a stiff broom being used on the wooden floor. Singing from the kitchen, in N’debele. The stirring of pots with lunch in them. Chirping of an occasional bird. The soccer ball rolling past outside the window. A door creaking open as someone enters the farmhouse to find out if it is time to collect eggs. The snapping of a sheet before it is tucked under a mattress as someone makes beds.

I love it.

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I wake up at 2:00am and listen.  I hear a sound I’ve never heard in Zimbabwe, in all the years I’ve been coming to this amazing country and I am confused. Then, I realize I am hearing raindrops -slow, steady, refreshing.  I step outside the hut and smell the rain. The floor is wet, the dirt is wet and the grass is wet as far as I can see in the light of the moon.  I can’t help feeling overjoyed and one must share joy, so I wake Eric up with, “It’s raining” and I can hear him smile in the darkness.

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I drag my body through the Kisumu airport, through the Nairobi airport, and through the Johannesburg airport. I find myself telling me (in my head) to stand up tall, to make my backpack look light, to pat my cheeks to make them look like I have color in them, and to not look sick.  The last thing I need is to get quarantined somewhere!  So, even though I really, really want to lean on every counter I approach, I hold it together and make it through customs and flights and airports just fine.  I do find myself running to the bathrooms in each airport and there comes a point where I don’t even bother dragging my backpack with me – I just ask a kind soul to please watch it.  He nods for the 10th time when I ask him AGAIN to watch the pack and he finally asks if all is ok.  I tell him it is and we continue waiting for our flight, as though nothing is out of the ordinary. He must think I am a nut.

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Class 7 students join us in the warm breeze as we garden. We dig holes, throw in manure/compost, and plant tomatoes, peppers, carrots, kale, and spinach. They are amazed by my insistence of adding mulch and more mulch to protect the roots from the sun and to keep the moisture in the earth. 10 centimeters of mulch? Yep, that would be about right, I say. We work together and all our hands are muddy, but I see that we are all smiling and having a good time, knowing that good food will come out of our labors. I pray that this will be a successful garden, as it hasn’t rained as much as is needed and everyone fears for their produce.

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The sky is orange and purple at 6:05am in this part of Kenya and the birds start their frantic cries, as though looking for a lost one. They bring in the day with a racket and I realize how little I know about birds. I don’t recognize a specific type of cry they make, which leaves me with a bit of a sad feeling. It is almost as though I can’t greet them properly if I don’t know who they are.

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