MOUNT AIRY – President Bush praised the missionary work of Maryland volunteers Friday in commemorating World AIDS Day with a request to Congress to double funding for his AIDS relief initiative to $30 billion for the next five years.
Bush’s remarks came Friday at the Calvary United Methodist Church here. The president recognized its work and that of other faith-based organizations, including Mount Zion Methodist Church of Bel Air, which helped build the Children of Zion Village, an orphanage founded my missionaries from Rising Sun, Md.
“They have seen hopelessness and they have seen hope . . . The people here come from different backgrounds, different denominations, yet they share this kind of calling to heal the sick and comfort the lonely,” Bush said, as he emotionally thanked the group of nine volunteers and Ambassador Mark Dybul, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator, all standing behind him. “Their stories are incredibly inspirational and touching.”
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has been successful in mitigating the AIDS pandemic since its authorization in 2003, Bush said, adding it was a good start for an effort he wants to continue.
First Lady Laura Bush also stood with the group, which the first couple met with privately for about 45 minutes before the news conference.
The Calvary church was selected as the presidential host because of its volunteer work at the Children of Zion Village orphanage in Africa.
Last summer, 18 church members visited Namibia on Africa’s western coast to volunteer at the orphanage in the town of Katima Mulilo. The 17-acre complex houses 55 orphans, ages 2 to 17, whose parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles have died from the disease.
“We cook, teach, play, do laundry” among other activities, said Clydia Koch, administrative coordinator of the church, who was the team leader on the trip.
Sarah Dorrance, a Calvary volunteer, also went to teach Bible class. Namibia is mostly a Christian country, she said.
The Rev. Dennis Yocum, senior pastor at Calvary, said Bush was “very personable” and was “very interested to find out how the $15 billion was spent in the last five years . . . he wanted to see results.”
Several people said it was spent well, Yocum said, but neither Calvary nor the orphanage have applied for any of that funding — yet.
“You never know what kind of leverage can come from this (presidential appearance),” he said. “You can only hope that your cause will get picked up.”
Rebecca Mink, who founded the orphanage six years ago with her husband, Gary, said she had been relying on private funding. It’s not enough, she said.
Mink told the president some stories about her orphanage, after which she said he looked over to Ambassador Dybul and told him: “Connect with her.”
“He was awesome. When he started talking to us, he had tears in his eyes,” Mink said. “He kept hugging us and kissing us.”
Although they live in Namibia most of the time, Mink was coincidentally back in Maryland this week for a medical checkup for her son, one of two orphans she has adopted. She said she was very surprised by the presidential visit, and got the call to attend the night before the event.
She will return to the orphanage next week. It is located in a part of the continent that is devastated by AIDS, she said. The town is on the Zambezi River, a bustling trade route for surrounding countries.
“People travel back and forth, filter in and out of the Caprivi Zipfel,” an area on the northeast side of the country, Mink said. “That definitely contributes” to the acute epidemic. There are about 4,000 to 5,000 orphans within a four-hour driving distance.
Mink plans to keep the 55 children at the orphanage for as long as they want to stay, even past age 18. But many have big ideas for their futures, she said. One wants to become a pediatric anesthesiologist, another an architectural engineer and another wants to stay at the orphanage and teach English.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 33.2 million people worldwide were living with HIV in 2007 and 2.1 million people have died of AIDS this year.
The day of awareness for the pandemic disease was established by the World Health Organization in 1988. It is observed annually on Dec. 1. -30- CNS-11