Ubuntu. This silly-looking Zulu word means nothing to the vast majority of the world, but to many, this is the meaning of life. The meaning of Ubuntu is parallel to that of Unity teachings: that we are all divine creations, and each of us is vital to the functionality of existence. This is what drives me.
At fourteen years old, I felt a call to expand my realm of thought through travel, and in the summer of 2006, I found myself in the tiny town of Maun, Botswana. My team of twenty people went hut-to-hut to help with daily chores and witness fundamental Christian ideals to the people. This was fairly uncomfortable for me, as I had always naturally felt that conversion was unnecessary, but I trekked along in knowing that I was in my perfect place. The part of our outreach that tugged on my heart was orphanage outreach. In a country where over 40 percent of the population is HIV-positive, hundreds of thousands of children have been orphaned due to their parents dying of AIDS. Many of these children are born HIV-positive, and many die within the first 3-7 years of life.
On our last day at the orphanage, something happened that changed my life forever. A five year old boy, Kabelo, who had been attached to me for the time we spent at the orphanage, came to me. He said my Setswana name and sat on my lap. “Thato, I’m very ill. I have the HIV.” In shock, I responded, “I know. But you know God loves you.” “I do know, Thato. Thank you for teaching me that. My best friend died of this sickness, Thato.” Silence. “I get to go be with her, don’t I?” I was frozen. I had no idea what to say. I couldn’t mutter a word. He put his arms around my neck and embraced me. All that was present in that moment was Spirit. All I could do was love. In that moment, I truly discovered my passion. I knew that I could make a positive impact on people by teaching them the truth about HIV, and simply loving them and appreciating them for exactly who they were: my brothers and sisters, and Africa was the place where I wanted to focus my energy.
Three years after my trip to Botswana, and a few months after a trip to West Africa, I was introduced to LoveLight Ministries, a project of The Light Center in Baldwin, Kansas. Nine years ago, The Light Center director Robin Goff travelled to South Africa and created LoveLight, and has since returned countless times. LoveLight strives to create social change by investing in the people of South Africa in the face of post-Apartheid transition and the HIV pandemic. It focuses specifically on youth and the grandmothers who care for children who have been orphaned due to HIV. Through gifts of love, light, and laughter, we plant the seed for this change. I committed six months in the tiny town of Riviersonderend with LoveLight, educating people about HIV and providing support to youth. I provided HIV testing and counseling, and developed a youth camp program designed to empower teenagers to live their lives passionately and responsibly. I conceptualized and assisted with an HIV testing initiative that led to over 500 people being tested and many people starting treatment.
On my current stay, I will be working with the homebound care nurse to provide ongoing testing and counseling to homebound patients, some of whom have never been tested for HIV. Camp Ubuntu follows a format similar to that of Youth of Unity rallies. As a result of the camp, the teens who attended were awakened to Unity principles and the concept of Ubuntu. Awareness of inherent love, appreciation, and respect for one another was more alive and present than ever.
The ladies of LoveLight—Robin Goff, Belinda Lightheart, Maura Rehfuss, and Carol Schultz—provide emotional support to the grandmothers caring for their grandchildren orphaned due to AIDS.
This work is so vital, as they are raising the future leaders of South Africa. Our next goal is to open a safe house for children abandoned by their parents. Children are often left to fend for themselves by parents addicted to drugs like methamphetamine and crack cocaine.
We know that in this Universe, there is only one true presence: God. In recognizing this, we open ourselves to opportunities to better ourselves through serving others and our planet. Our love for one another can be shown in an infinite number of ways, and serving Africa is where my bliss is. Everyone’s way of showing it is different. It could be combating the AIDS crisis in Africa, talking to a child, or simply planting a home garden in a city. In terms of leadership, we all have the potential to lead in great ways. I’m often asked by both young people and adults what it takes to be a leader. My answer is being willing to step out of your comfort zone, seek and pursuit what is out of arms’ reach. Someone who is willing to face failure, make mistakes, and be ready to learn from them.
In Unity, we recognize our oneness, and the Truth that we are all vital in co-creating our existence. Now is the time to create a future that will sustain us and our children. Join me in making it bright!