NEW HAVEN — Jo LaFontaine will present an Armchair Traveler program at New Haven Community Library on Thursday, March 28, at 7 p.m. LaFontaine will share slides and the story of her work with Mothers Without Borders in Zambia.
When LaFontaine decided to volunteer at a “sew-a-thon” in Bristol several years ago, she became interested in hearing more about Mothers without Borders, the organization that was sponsoring it. She attended a slideshow presented by a brother of the founder, Kathy Headlee, to educate people about the work being done for children in Zambia and other countries ravaged by AIDS. When LaFontaine left the presentation later that night, she felt she had discovered a cause she could believe in wholeheartedly. She became determined to travel to Zambia and help in any way she could.
“I shocked the devil out of my family,” she said, smiling.
Her first trip took place in 2008 and she is planning a third trip this coming June.
Zambia, like many sub-Saharan African nations, is a country of orphans. AIDS has decimated the productive middle generation. The people who should be farmers, or lawyers, or teachers, are dead or dying. Wherever possible grandmothers or other elders will take care of the orphaned children left behind, but they are often too far away, too poor, or too overburdened with other sick or orphaned relatives. Mothers Without Borders tries to address the needs of orphaned and abandoned children by “supporting efforts to provide safe shelter, food and clean water, education and access to caring adults,” as their website explains. And it goes on to say, “We want to assure that each child has someone who cares about them to teach them of their value.”
LaFontaine was hooked after her first trip.
“Once you get Africa in your head, I think it never goes away,” she said. “The people are so courageous, and welcoming and dear. They have been through it all and yet they stay positive and loving.”
While there, she and her group did whatever needed to be done, from working on the new orphanage building, clearing away cement from worksites, or just helping children and women to play games and enjoy each other. “Their lives are so hard,” she said, “They don’t get much chance to play.”
The New Haven Community Library is located at 78 North St. in New Haven. The program is free and accessible. Call 453-4015 for further information.