Little did I know at the time that a remote village in the southern Kgalagadi desert would end up changing the course and direction of my life. I was beginning Tirelo Sechaba (National Service) as a News broadcaster for five villages in the Borolong district of Botswana that year. I met a Peace Corps volunteer who was teaching at the community secondary school and we formed a strong connection. Three years later, at the end of his Peace Corps service, Nicholas Seferian and I married and we moved to Hawaii to further our education.
Our plans were to return to Botswana to pursue careers in community development and education. We both studied at Hawaii Pacific University where I earned a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Business Administration, and Nick completed a Masters degree in teaching English as a second language. During our six-year stay in Hawaii, we were able to return twice to Botswana. On the first trip in 2000, we visited with family in Ramotswa and traveled to Mabule to visit friends and colleagues at the school where Nicholas had taught. What we discovered in both Ramotswa and Mabule completely changed the direction of our lives.
HIV Impact in Africa
Ramotswa, my home village, once so full of life and children, was a much quieter place to be. Families had been decimated by AIDS. One family, which consisted of a grandmother, mother, father, and five children, now consisted of the elderly grandmother and the mother who was living with HIV. In Mabule, people who had been our good friends during our stay there, were dead. We visited new grave sites and read the dates on tombstones. We learned that most of the deceased were born in the 1980s. Very few were any older than 40. A friend of ours there, who had welcomed Nick and introduced me to the village people and families, had passed, a victim of AIDS. Although I was incredibly saddened at the loss of this good friend, the loss was heightened with the realization of the dire straits of the children he left behind without parents.
I had never experienced such shock and disbelief. I left Mabule feeling as though a part of me had been lost, and feeling utter despair with the knowledge that my friend’s children would be left in poverty without a father and a scant extended family. I returned to Hawaii knowing that I had to do something to help our community. I found it impossible to stop thinking about the HIV/AIDS situation in Botswana. The situation seemed so monstrous and so far advanced, that I felt I had to focus on only one fragment of the issue. I decided that the best way I could fight what was happening was to begin helping one village at a time. I felt that, although I could not save Botswana or Africa from HIV/AIDS, I could make sure that one part of the country, one village, would be a force in dealing with the effects of the disease.
This is how the plan to create SOCOBA, The Society for Children Orphaned By AIDS, had its genesis and became my focus. The children are the most innocent and vulnerable casualties of the AIDS epidemic that is engulfing Botswana. Together with my graduate school coursework and with Nick’s teaching abilities and development experience, we both hope to provide the people of Mabule with the knowledge and resources they will need to ensure that they do not suffer the same fate as so many of their kin.
SOCOBA has two offices in the United States, in Burbank, California, and Washington, DC, and one in the village of Mabule, which is in the region of Borolong. All of the offices are home-based, which we think is a perfect symbol of what we are about, ensuring everyone has a place and people to call home. We are an all volunteer organization, and hope you will consider becoming part of our story.