Children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Kenya a Navy family’s priority
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan
Joe Sanders is fond of saying “You can’t take it with you when you’re dead.”
Time and money don’t travel well into the afterlife, so Sanders takes it to Africa, where he works in one of the worst HIV-infected and impoverished areas of Kenya.
“They call me ‘Mazungu’ — ‘white guy,’” Sanders said. “Most people know me.”
Sanders, a 56-year-old Yokosuka spouse and former sailor, goes to Nyanza province twice a year to check on the projects that he and his daughter, Angelia Sanders, oversee through their organization, Tamani Africa.
Tamani means “hope” in Swahili.
Hope can be sparse in the region, which currently has an HIV transmission rate of more than 30 percent, Sanders said. Most people live below the poverty line and don’t have clean water, electricity or $10 to buy a school uniform for their children, he said.
And HIV leaves hordes of children orphaned, Sanders said.
“Why should the kids be punished for what the parents do?” he said.
So he dug into his own pockets and started projects in the village where Angelia worked as a Peace Corps volunteer. From there, the movement grew into their Tamani organization, which functions under the umbrella of the Earth Conservancy.
Sanders locates people to pay the $200 high school tuition for orphans who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. He has an ongoing program for small business loans and recycles no-interest loans to help families get a leg up.
He said help can come in the form of something as basic as a mosquito net, a need brought to attention this year after one little girl died from malaria.
“Everywhere you go, there’s a need. It’s just there. It’s a matter of what you focus on,” Sanders said. “We can’t support everything.”
Angelia and Joe Sanders’ friends are helping, too.
An elementary school jump-rope-a-thon earned enough money to buy solar panels for the Kedowa School for the Deaf. A coffee-house event in Norfolk, Va., bought a water cooler for a school.
The Tamani organization also has been able to open a church and a voluntary HIV/AIDS testing center, according to the group’s Web site.
Sanders, an endurance runner, is sponsoring a 15K Tamani Race in Nyanza province and will promote the group in the “Greatest Race of Earth” this year in four consecutive marathons in Nairobi, Kenya; Singapore; Mumbai, India; and Hong Kong, he said.
“When I turned 50, I wanted to do something different,” Sanders said. “Most people don’t want to get involved or think that the little money they can give will make a difference. But it’s not about how much; it’s that you do something. The combination of everyone’s efforts is what makes the difference.”
Sanders’ wife, Capt. Suzanne Sanders, said she probably will retire in Kenya. She tells active- duty peers that she and her husband “will always have a room open for them and a warm meal if they want to visit and do some volunteer work,” she said.
“Being in the military, you see that there are a lot of countries in need,” Suzanne Sanders said. “I wish we would have been aware sooner. With so many HIV/AIDS deaths, this next generation is largely raising themselves, which puts them even more at risk.”
For more information, visit www.tamaniafrica.org.