Archive for Thursday, October 26, 2006

Worlds apart

LMS dance to benefit orphan relief

October 26, 2006

Could a 3-year-old from South Africa really have accumulated more life experiences than a teenager in Lansing?

Lansing Middle School eighth-grader Sara Beck thinks so.

Lansing Middle School students in the IDEA program have adopted Lisakhanya Khonzani, an orphan from South Africa. The students will play host to a school dance Friday, Oct. 27, and use the profits to buy food and clothing for her and other orphans.

Lansing Middle School students in the IDEA program have adopted Lisakhanya Khonzani, an orphan from South Africa. The students will play host to a school dance Friday, Oct. 27, and use the profits to buy food and clothing for her and other orphans.

The 3-year-old girl Beck is referring to is Lisakhanya Khonzani, a South African orphan whom students in IDEA - the gifted program at LMS - adopted this school year.

Lisakhanya lives in Motherwell, a township on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Her mother, who is HIV-positive, can no longer care for Lisakhanya, so she lives with an aunt and a handful of fellow orphans.

"Even though she's younger than us, I think she's had way more experiences that will influence her later on," Beck said.

LMS eighth-grader Heather Cook agreed.

"Americans tend to take for granted what we have. We complain about all the little things," Cook said. "In South Africa, this girl is lucky to just get the basics."

But in South Africa, even the basics are difficult to come by for many.

Kathy Ray, IDEA facilitator at LMS, said although South Africa's racial segregation system of apartheid ended in 1994, high unemployment rates persist, and many children eat one meal - or less - each day.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5.3 million South Africans - nearly 12 percent - have HIV/AIDS, and like Lisakhanya, more than 1.1 million children are orphans because of the disease.

To provide some relief, IDEA will play host to a school dance for Lisakhanya from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, in the LMS commons.

Profits from the $4 admission fee and concession sales will buy food and clothing for Lisakhanya and other orphans through Oceans of Mercy, a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian organization launched in 2002 by Schaun Colin, of Shawnee.

Originally from South Africa, Colin opened Oceans of Mercy Children's Village in Port Elizabeth, where orphaned children receive shelter, education and healthcare. Colin has visited LMS several times during the past few years to share the plight of South Africans with Lansing students.

Ray said that $30 would provide food and clothing for Lisakhanya for a full month.

But the students' adoption of Lisakhanya won't stop there.

They're already making plans to send her a care package at Christmas, as well as Lansing and Kansas mementos with notes addressed to a child whose world is markedly different from most Americans'.

Eighth-grader April Elkins said one of the biggest differences between Lisakhanya and her American counterparts was the power of choice - whether it be food, clothing or entertainment.

"She doesn't really get what she wants all the time," Elkins said. "She never gets a choice on what she wants. Here, we get a choice on almost anything."

The organizers said adopting someone across the world with a name and a face illustrated the day-to-day realities for Lisakhanya and the other South African orphans.

"When you're watching the news, you're so used to watching all these horrible things happening," said eighth-grader Hannah Hecht. "When you're actually helping somebody out, it feels different."

African-themed decorations and music will form the setting for the dance, which the students hope will do more than simply provide a social scene for their fellow students on Friday night.

They're aiming for information.

"It's a good way to notify people about what's going on over there in South Africa, because several thousand people get AIDS over there every day," said eighth-grader Marita Meyer. "It's becoming a big problem over there, and it's wiping out the population."

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