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After an article was written about us and our trip in The Tennessean, the local paper in Nashville, we received hundreds of comments and e-mails from readers encouraging us as we traveled and providing recommendations for things we should see and do on our journey.  None have proved as valuable as one we received from a Nashville reader who sits on the Board of Directors of an orphanage in South Africa.  When she saw South Africa on our itinerary, she suggested that we visit the orphanage if we were in the area.  Ten months later, we arrived at the Sihawukelwe Lauren Children’s Home (SLCH) in Umzinyathi, a small, rural town in the Zulu area of eastern South Africa.
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SLCH was started a few years ago to help address an increasing problem in South Africa – children orphaned due to the death of their parents from AIDS.  South Africa plays home to more people with AIDS (many of whom have kids) than does any other country.  A report we heard on local radio in South Africa (and later confirmed online) stated that there are more than 1,200,000 AIDS orphans here.  This fact is particularly difficult for Westerners to understand.  While the risks of AIDS are still very real in the West, education and various social programs have proved fairly effective in preventing the widespread dissemination of the disease.  Unfortunately, this is not so in many parts of Africa.
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While government education programs to reduce the risk of AIDS exist in Africa, many of these programs have failed to make a significant dent in the problem.  Multiple factors have collided to cause this failure, including illiteracy, strong cultural dynamics and massive misinformation.  The president of South Africa himself has suggested that AIDS is caused by “poverty.”  South Africa’s health minister advocates a diet of garlic, olive oil and lemon to cure AIDS.  (Despite calls by scientists for her resignation, she remains in her post today.) Finally, according to people we’ve met during our time here, some Africans (hopefully only a few) believe that AIDS was brought to Africa by the West in order to kill off all Africans.  So, in short, there are a lot of obstacles to effectively combating this deadly, widespread disease.

SLCH was opened after a group of Nashvillians learned of some of these problems and of the incredible toll they were taking on the Umzinyathi community.  They reached out to the community in a big way, providing funding for a new Children’s Home that currently houses 18 children (with room to accept more children in the future), most of whom have lost their parents to AIDS.
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We were fortunate to spend two days and nights at the home.  During our time, we helped the SLCH staff purchase winter clothes for the children (remember that, because South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s almost winter here now!), some needed items for the home and art supplies and soccer balls for the kids.  After we discovered that over a hundred books had been donated by the Nashville community but were locked away in a separate building inaccessible to the children, Shanna, a voracious reader, made it her mission to create a library in an empty room in the home.  It was a unique feeling to flip through books in a small Zulu village that had once been read by children back in Nashville.

The greatest joy of our time at the home was talking and playing with the kids.  We were shocked at how disciplined, mature and inquisitive they seemed to be (and, as you’ll see in the video, what amazing dancers they are!).  It was easy to forget the tragic losses that the children have all recently endured, losses that have amazingly been eased by the generous contributions and dedication of a small group of Tennesseans thousands of miles away.