July 25, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ghana: COS - Zambia: The Day : Linda and Bruce Wilkinson have called Africa home for some 17 years, starting with Bruce's service in the Peace Corps in Ghana in 1977

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ghana: Peace Corps Ghana : The Peace Corps in Ghana: July 25, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ghana: COS - Zambia: The Day : Linda and Bruce Wilkinson have called Africa home for some 17 years, starting with Bruce's service in the Peace Corps in Ghana in 1977

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Linda and Bruce Wilkinson have called Africa home for some 17 years, starting with Bruce's service in the Peace Corps in Ghana in 1977

Linda and Bruce Wilkinson have called Africa home for some 17 years, starting with Bruce's service in the Peace Corps in Ghana in 1977

Now the couple lives in Lusaka, Zambia, where they moved in November 2004 with the two youngest of their five children. They have devoted themselves to HIV and AIDS work - Bruce on a macro scale and Linda on a micro level. "You've got a crisis in southern and east Africa now. It's a pandemic. It probably surpasses any pandemic in the history of mankind," Bruce said, including the black plague in Europe in the Middle Ages.


Linda and Bruce Wilkinson have called Africa home for some 17 years, starting with Bruce's service in the Peace Corps in Ghana in 1977

Couple From North Stonington Works To Battle AIDS In Zambia

By Elaine Stoll
The Day
Westerly/North Stonington, Conn.
July 25, 2005

North Stonington - Linda and Bruce Wilkinson spend 10 and 11 months away from their North Stonington house, respectively, and even when they return they have another place in mind.

Africa.

Living in Zambia, the couple is temporarily back in town. Before returning they will hold an event Aug. 2 to raise awareness of the African AIDS crisis and raise funds to combat the disease and its terrible impact.

Linda and Bruce have called Africa home for some 17 years, starting with Bruce's service in the Peace Corps in Ghana in 1977. They spent nine years working for Wycliffe Bible Translators, a job that took them to a number of African countries not only for translation work but to write down oral languages.

In 1988 Bruce, a native of North Stonington, joined World Vision, a Christian organization dedicated to international relief and development.

Since then they have lived mostly in Africa, with periods in France and the United States. When the couple lived in Mali, Bruce worked on mass feeding programs and a health program for mothers and children. After they moved to Senegal, Bruce's work took him to countries like Sierra Leone, Chad, Niger, Liberia, Mauritania and Rwanda.

Now the couple lives in Lusaka, Zambia, where they moved in November 2004 with the two youngest of their five children. They have devoted themselves to HIV and AIDS work - Bruce on a macro scale and Linda on a micro level.

"You've got a crisis in southern and east Africa now. It's a pandemic. It probably surpasses any pandemic in the history of mankind," Bruce said, including the black plague in Europe in the Middle Ages.

Bruce and Linda have seen the crisis firsthand, and it has many faces. Of Zambia's 10.6 million people, 1.2 million are orphaned children. The country's median age is 16, and its life expectancy just 37 years, Bruce said.

Linda knows a Zambian woman who grew up with 24 siblings and cousins, she said. Only one of them remained alive, the woman told Linda - the rest died of AIDS. Linda learned there are countless others with similar stories, she said.

The disease brings many problems, ones Bruce and Linda are working in their own ways to meet. Working with World Vision and with the U.S. Agency for International Development's RAPIDS program (Reaching HIV/AIDS Affected People with Integrated Development and Support), Bruce works to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the disease with the drug Nevirapine and to increase the flow of much-needed antiretroviral medications to Africa.

His work includes helping people with AIDS learn to grow nutritious food, since good nutrition, already a challenge in Zambia, is especially important for those with the disease. Bruce works to prevent youth not infected with the disease from getting it by providing them with livelihood opportunities such as vocational training and small loans. And he helps train people to discuss the disease, ways to prevent it and ways to care for its victims with a population ravaged by the disease but often reluctant to discuss it, or even find out if they are infected.

Bruce's projects with RAPIDS are now assisting 350,000 orphans and vulnerable children, 150,000 people living with HIV or AIDS and 25,000 uninfected youth, he said.

Linda, on the other hand, has taken a more local approach.

Zambia project

When the couple decided to move to Zambia, she knew she wanted to undertake a project with widows, orphans and grandmothers, she said. What to do, she didn't know.

In a move Linda called "taking a step out in faith," she went to see a widow she learned of through a friend. The widow was caring for seven children: her own plus those of her two sisters, who both died of AIDS. For the widow and others like her, basics like food are a struggle. "They have nothing," Linda said.

Linda and others helped the woman get back on her feet, and from there a group of 12 widows formed to help others. They chose to call themselves Chikumbuso, a Nyenga word that means roughly "to remember things that were done for you so that you can return kindness," Linda said.

Many widows caring for children cannot afford the small fees for sending them to school, so Linda and the Chikumbuso widows started their own school inside a Baptist church. The Chikumbuso Christian School for Orphans and Vulnerable Children started with 30 kids, but grew in just three weeks to include 100. The widows raised money for paying two teachers and added a lunch program that offers the children in many cases their only meal of the day, Linda said.

The Chikumbuso Project has grown to include grandmothers, who often end up caring for multiple children despite being unable to care for even themselves, Linda said. She and the widows buy the grandmothers enough food to feed themselves and the children they care for - just $6 for a months' supply - as well as basic cooking supplies and items like soap. The widows have helped the grandmothers with special needs as well.

They repaired a door for a woman worried the food the widows supplied her and her grandchildren with would be stolen, and they supplied another grandmother whose muscles had atrophied with a chair she could use to practice sitting and standing.

Next week's wine and cheese fund-raiser and awareness event, Aug. 2 from 6 to 9 p.m. at The Watermark in North Stonington, will benefit The Chikumbuso Project. Linda and Bruce will talk about the impact of HIV and AIDS on women and children in Lusaka, Zambia, and present a slide show. The Second Baptist Church on Stillman Road in North Stonington is also accepting donations year-round to benefit the project.

The couple has messages of urgency and hope to share with their fellow Americans.

"It is in our national best interest to accelerate the resources going to Africa to combat HIV and AIDS," Bruce said. "You pay now or you pay later. Infectious disease is going to spread rapidly around this world."

"If you simply take concrete action to help folks, you can see a difference," Bruce said.






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Story Source: The Day

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ghana; COS - Zambia; HIV; AIDS; Service

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