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Ministry gives hope to AIDS orphans in Africa

A Kenyan orphan cares for chickens at Giving Hope, a United Methodist mission that teaches AIDS orphans the skills needed to provide for their future. UMNS photos courtesy of ZOE Ministry.

A UMNS Report
By Chuck Long*

Dec. 7, 2007

A goat provides milk and a source of income for the children.

Working diligently in a small vegetable garden in rural Kenya, 14-year-old Alex wears an enormous smile as he harvests a handful of kale.

The smile masks a heartbreaking truth. Alex is one of more than 16 million Africans orphaned by the AIDS pandemic.

In the face of that cruel statistic, however, a United Methodist ministry called Giving Hope is doing just that – providing AIDS orphans with the seeds needed to sow their future. The program is part of the ZOE Ministry, designed to empower orphans to care for themselves and their families.

Giving Hope nurtures relationships that bring children out of isolation and into family environments of emotional support. Once ostracized and stigmatized, youngsters develop into leaders.

For Alex, a brown and white spotted goat grazing in a nearby pen may hold a key to his future. Alex and his younger brother are learning to care for the droopy-eared animal.

"If the goat can give out like 4 liters of milk, (Alex) can be able to sell half of it and the other he can consume with the family," explains ZOE’s Reegan Kaberia of Maua, Kenya. "One liter of goat milk costs about 50 shillings, and that will be a big boost for the family."

Like many of his peers in Kenya, Alex has been forced to grow up faster than his counterparts across the globe. While many teens spend countless hours playing videogames, Alex is showing off seedlings from his starter garden.

"He will sell some of the small plants and eventually the crop and keep some to feed his family," said Kaberia. "He will start saving for shoes, which he doesn’t have any good shoes, and make sure he has something in his account so he can prepare for secondary school."

Asked what his future holds, Alex beams, then speaks through a translator: "He believes when he finishes school that he would like to be a pilot."

Emotional support

Epiphanie Mujawimana, who heads Giving Hope in Africa, says skills learned by the orphans are empowering. "Children themselves have a vision for their future, and they can take action to change their lives," she says as she watches a group working in a large garden.

In addition to developing income-generating skills, Giving Hope emphasizes instruction in discipleship or how to be a follower of Jesus Christ, HIV/AIDS awareness, health and hygiene, animal husbandry and cultivating crops.

"In every meeting, we make sure they don’t feel like orphans or hopeless children," said Mujawimana. "We tell them they have a heavenly father that loves them and will provide everything they need. The Bible says each of us has to work so we can survive on our work."

Children work in the common agricultural project at the mission.

Giving Hope encourages cooperative relationships among children to help bring them out of isolation.

"When they gather together as a group, they can initiate a common project, they can plant potatoes or raise chicken, and once they sell it, they can use it to support one who is in need," Mujawimana said.

'Life-changing ministry'

ZOE’s Giving Hope launched in Rwanda and Kenya in early 2007, and the ministry will reach more than 3,000 in the two east Africa countries by the beginning of 2008. The ministry is designed to help the orphans and their families achieve financial independence within three years.

The Rev. Greg Jenks, founder of the ZOE Ministry, calls Giving Hope "truly a life-changing ministry" and praises Mujawimana for shepherding the program. Jenks’ ministry already has a big impact in parts of Zimbabwe, where it began as the Zimbabwe Orphans Endeavor.

Changing lives isn’t something Mujawimana takes lightly. She understands what’s at stake.

"It’s been incredible to see the life change taking place among these kids who now have animals to raise, crops to tend to, and income-generating projects," Mujawimana said. "And to know that in two to three years they’re not going to need us anymore because they’ve learned to take care of themselves. That’s what giving hope is all about."

Details are available at www.zoeministry.org or by calling (919) 550-0255. Donations to the ZOE Ministry can be made through the United Methodist Advance for Christ giving program at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/about/advance/advance-projects/index.cfm. Giving Hope is Advance Project #982023.

*Long is a freelance producer and writer in Nashville, Tenn. This report was compiled with information provided by the Rev. Greg Jenks, founder of ZOE Ministry.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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