By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRISTOL — The AIDS epidemic in Africa is hitting the country of Zambia especially hard. One in six adults in the country has HIV. About 630,000 children have been orphaned by the disease.
Two Bristol residents, Darla Senecal and Nancy Luke, are creating a local chapter of the organization of the organization Mothers Without Borders, which is trying to offer relief to those orphans.
The local chapter’s first project is collecting “Newborn Kits” for families in Zambia. These kits include six cloth diapers, one layette gown, one bar of soap, four diaper pins, three small plastic pants, one pair of baby socks, one receiving blanket, and one hat for a newborn.
“It seemed like a perfect gift for Mother’s Day,” Luke said.
Anyone who would like to donate a kit can drop them off before May 19 at five places in Addison County: Green Mountain Shoe and Apparel in Bristol; Addison County Parent/Child Center, Green Mountain Shoe and Apparel, and Vermont Sun fitness center in Middlebury; and at the Vergennes city offices in the opera house.
At first, Luke and Senecal were surprised that so little could make a difference, because they weren’t used to thinking about such limited resources. “The first thing we thought was, ‘Wow, they only need six diapers?’ Our whole mindset was disposable diapers,” Senecal said.
Senecal first heard of the organization several years ago. She and Luke were both interested in it from the beginning, but they were not able to get involved with it until recently. “Life kind of got in the way,” Senecal said.
The pair of women has little experience with something like this. Luke has gone on a church mission trip to Jamaica, but this is their first time organizing an effort themselves.
Word of mouth is spreading the existence of the local chapter quickly. Although the Bristol chapter of Mothers Without Borders has just kicked off, Senecal and Luke said there’s a lot of interest and has signed up eight members so far. “It’s been a pretty infectious little organization, no pun intended, that we’ve put together here,” Senecal said. “When it’s a worthy cause, people want to join.”
And according to Luke, that interest comes from more than just mothers. “Many teenagers are pricking up their ears and starting to express interest. It will be interesting to see what kind of involvement we get there,” Luke said.
Eventually, the group will get involved with local community service efforts, but they don’t have definite plans yet.
“Not only (does the national organization) ask for help in Zambia and Romania and Guatemala, but they encourage chapters to do local work, as well,” Senecal said. “They want you to find a project in your own community so you’re not only sending things away and you may not ever get to see the impact that you’re having, but also see how locally it’s really important.”
They are hoping to take a hands-on approach to their work when they can. “You can apply to go on one of their missions,” Senecal said. “There are a number of people in our group already that are interested in making that trip.”
Created in 2000, Mothers Without Borders works to help the poor in countries around the world. The AIDS crisis in Africa has been a major focus. Caring for orphans created by that crisis is but one issue being addressed. For example, one HIV-positive Zambian woman who takes care of four children of her own and four nieces and nephews received a loan, according to Luke. Although the loan was only $60, it was enough to open a small restaurant.
“It’s useful,” Luke said of Mothers Without Borders. “It’s not someone just coming in and handing out food and then leaving. It’s helping them to help themselves.”
To take advantage of the interest they’ve sensed, Senecal and Luke have planned a community-wide meeting in Holley Hall at 7 p.m. on June 28. Anyone interested in the group is welcome.
“It’s the right thing to do at the right time,” Luke said.