Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Making an Impact for Widows and Orphans in Zambia

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was one of the most widely-praised initiatives of the George W. Bush Administration. It was a sweeping commitment—over $15 billion towards AIDS relief across the globe. And while it's easy to hear of broad policies and grand numbers and be unaffected, its impact is still being felt in communities like Ng'ombe, Zambia, where Linda Wilkinson '78 works with widows and orphans affected by HIV.

In 2005, Linda founded Chikumbuso Widows and Orphans Project, which serves this marginalized community with "free schooling for the children, as well as adult training and capacity building, income generation activities and community building programs."

The initiative has grown steadily since its birth, directly impacting the lives of dozens of at-risk individuals in Zambia—thanks in large part to the free treatment options they were able to access through PEFAR.
"Women who had nothing and children who had no direction are now living full and productive lives going to school and caring for one another," Wilkinson says.

"Living here in Zambia I am witness to the lives saved through this program. Ninety five percent of our widows at Chikumbuso and many of their children suffer from this virus. When I reflect on the women seven years ago and the hardships they were enduring, not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually, I can see nothing but growth."

As a testament to Chikumbuso's community-shaping, life-changing work, President Bush paid the center a visit a few weeks ago. The community welcomed him with embraces and songs, and expressed their gratitude to him for his work on their behalf. President Bush, in turn, was "touched deeply by the stories the widows told and the lives of the children at Chikumbuso."

To learn more about Chikumbuso's work, and how you can get involved in Linda's work in Zambia, browse the organization's website here.

Linda Wilkinson was a history and education double major at Gordon College. Her husband, Bruce '77, works with World Vision in Zambia. The Wilkinsons were named Alumni of the Year at Gordon in 2008.

Photo: Former President and First Lady George and Laura Bush (in red) tour the Chikumbuso compound, guided by Linda Wilkinson '78 (in gray).

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