December 4, 2003 - Fairfax Times: Ethiopia RPCV Phil Lilienthal reaches out to Africa's orphans

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ethiopia: Peace Corps Ethiopia : The Peace Corps in Ethiopia: December 4, 2003 - Fairfax Times: Ethiopia RPCV Phil Lilienthal reaches out to Africa's orphans

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Ethiopia RPCV Phil Lilienthal reaches out to Africa's orphans

Ethiopia RPCV Phil Lilienthal reaches out to Africa's orphans

Reaching out to Africa's orphans

By Michelle Zimmermann


Camping is in Phil Lilienthal's blood. He was born into a family that ran a well-known summer camp in Maine, Camp Winnebago.

That and experience running children's camps in Ethiopia as a Peace Corps volunteer have led the longtime Reston resident to his latest venture, WorldCamps, in South Africa.

Lilienthal, 63, together with HIVSA--a nongovernmental organization for social support to those attending the Perinatal HIV Research Unit in Soweto, South Africa—have organized a camp for children ages 9 to 15 who have lost family members to HIV/AIDS.

Though the camp's primary function is to teach the children ways to cope with the loss of family members, it also provides important social contact for children whose families may be ostracized because of the stigma attached to being infected with HIV.

The first camp will take place after Christmas, and Lilienthal and his wife, Lynn, will leave immediately after the holiday for the camp's inauguration.

In its first year of operation, Lilienthal said he expects that around 1,000 children will be able to attend the 10-day camp sessions, at about 150 youngsters per session.

The Ethiopian camps that Lilienthal organized and operated as a Peace Corps worker in the 1960s enabled children to get out of cities.

Now an attorney with an office overlooking Washington Plaza at Lake Anne Village Center, Lilienthal returned to Africa last year, trying to figure out how another camp could be started. While there, he was approached by the HIVSA people, who had a plan for a camp in hand—its objective: to teach basic life skills to children who, under normal circumstances, would learn from their parents and older family members.

"It is imperative that the developmental, educational, moral, experiential and psychosocial needs of our children are taken into account before it is too late," reads the HIVSA camp proposal.

Activities such as games, dances and other diversions intended to just provide fun for the children will be complemented by 25 counselors extolling the virtues of washing hands, being courteous to neighbors and friends and teaching how to cope with loss.

Lilienthal said that, after a visit to South Africa in May, "people just started falling out of the trees" with contacts for him or offers of help, including people here in the United States.

Lilienthal will be bringing quilts made by a local woman with him when he returns in December, and a number of other local people are going with him. Dale Dunlop, 57, a volunteer at Reston Interfaith's Laurel Learning Center, has signed up to volunteer at the camp as a sports counselor.

Though he says he is excited about going to Africa, Dunlop said he liked what Lilienthal was doing at Camp Winnebago when Dunlop visited with several Laurel children.

"I just thought this would be a good thing to do," Dunlop said of volunteering for Lilienthal's South Africa operation. And, though he said he won't know what to expect until he arrives, he said he feels sports will transcend the cultural differences that are sure to exist.

"Kids are kids the world over," Dunlop said.

And Lilienthal already has received a foundation grant for $10,000 to help fund the camp, which he expects to cost nearly $400,000 in its first year of operation.

When Lilienthal approached the Herndon Rotary Club seeking a partnership, he said he did it only hoping for a name with which to ally himself. But Rotary leaders responded by saying that the camp matched up so well with the club's mission that the group wanted to help him out financially, if possible, as well.

Rotary has focused for the past 20 years or so on projects to eradicate polio throughout the world, said Herndon Rotary Club secretary Scott Mills, also a Reston attorney. As that effort has been winding down with the success of reducing polio, the club has been looking for other ways to address international health concerns with local impacts.

"[Phil's] idea seemed like a very good fit," Mills said. "It is an interest that needs to be addressed, not only because of its effect on victims and their families and the economies of their countries but because it has long-lasting effects on world peace and understanding how everybody gets along."

Mills said the club is in the process of helping Lilienthal write a grant proposal, which would help buy supplies and equipment.

"It's more than just a noble action," Mills added. "It's a necessity that the world community address this pandemic and address the social implications, too."

Lilienthal originally intended the camps to be smaller and of a shorter duration—and with a smaller budget—but, with the AIDS problem so widespread in Africa, Lilienthal said he made the decision to "scale up" to reach more children.

A February 2002 National Geographic article estimated that there are around 25 million orphans in Africa and that approximately 30 percent of the population is infected with the HIV virus.

Lilienthal has photos in his office, taken on his trip to South Africa, showing row upon row of fresh graves dug for the recently deceased.

"All I want is to see it happen," Lilienthal said. "I think parents and teachers will be blown away by the before and after they'll see in their children."

After the South African camp's first year of operation, Lilienthal said he hopes to continue working with HIVSA to spread the camp concept and program to other African countries in order to most efficiently spread the message to the huge population of youth who are without guidance because of losses due to AIDS.

"This is an amazing problem, and we need to do the best job we can and hit as many people as we can," Lilienthal said.

©Times Community Newspapers 2003

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Story Source: Fairfax Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ethiopia; Orphans; Service



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