By David Jasper / The Bulletin Published: December 17. 2006 5:00AM PST The Indian Princess Project seeks to end forced prostitution around Bombay, India, by establishing a garment business for rescued sex workers.
Thousands of miles away, VIMA Lupwa Homes completes its first safe, clean house for AIDS orphans in Mikomfwa, Zambia. The antithesis of a large institutional setting, it will house up to 15 children in a homey setting. Two nonprofits. Separate goals. Different continents. But what these organizations have in common are founders - Shannon Keith, 32, and Malerie Pratt, 21, respectively - who are reaching out to help people across the globe, from Bend. VIMA Lupwa Homes VIMA Lupwa Homes' founder Malerie Pratt is currently in Zambia, but The Bulletin sat down with Marlena Bellavia, a language instructor at Central Oregon Community College and a Lupwa Homes president. Earlier this fall, Bellavia went to the Zambian town of Mikomfwa as VIMA Lupwa prepared to open its first home for orphans. Bellavia, who spent part of her childhood in Congo, told of a grueling, 42-hour trip from Bend to Mikomfwa. It was her first trip back to Africa in more than 30 years. "It was incredible to go back," she said, "because a lot had not changed." The economy in northern Zambia, where Mikomfwa is located, is "virtually nonexistent." "This is in the Copper Belt, and the copper industry went belly-up 15 years ago," she said. "People are just barely subsisting." But every bit of help is also deeply appreciated there, Bellavia said. She was still feeling elated about the opening of the Lupwa house, which will be home to children between the ages of 5 and 12, along with a set of "house parents." In the case of the first home, it's a Mikomfwa local named Violet Membe and her husband, Mr. Mwala. Bellavia is one of eight locals active on the board of directors of VIMA Lupwa Homes. The name "VIMA," she explains, comes from a hybridization of the first letters of Pratt's first name and that of Violet Membe. The other part of the name, "Lupwa," means "family" in the Bemba language. Pratt is a 2004 Bend High graduate, whom Bellavia has taught French at COCC. Pratt spent the fall 2004 quarter in Italy through a COCC program. During the term, Pratt told Bellavia she was thinking of volunteering - somewhere - before returning to Bend. "I thought that was a wonderful idea," Bellavia said. "I had lived in Africa when I was a child, and so I said, 'Well, maybe you can go and volunteer somewhere in Africa.' "And she did. She went for six months to Zambia, and worked in an AIDS clinic and with an Italian organization" that had nutrition and medical centers. Pratt met Membe at the nutrition center, "and they became fast friends," Bellavia said. There was also a malnourished little girl named Melody. "She was living with her grandmother and was not well taken care of, and would ask Malerie and Violet, 'Please take me home; take me home.'" Pratt and Membe decided there needed to be more orphanages, "but not institution-type orphanages. We need to have homes," Bellavia said. When Pratt returned to Bend in the summer of 2005, she, Bellavia and other area people formed the non-profit VIMA Lupwa Homes. "With small events here in Bend, we raised enough funds to build a home," she said. Later that same summer, Zambian workers started the foundation for the home, a three-bedroom house. It was supposed to be completed and open by this past summer. That didn't happen. Pratt returned in September "to find a bit of chaos," said Bellavia. "Work had basically stopped. The 'oomph' had come out of the whole project." Red tape and an "administrative nightmare" were the problems. Work resumed when Pratt arrived, but in mid-October, she sent an "SOS to the board, saying 'can somebody please come and help?'" Bellavia said. "We all work, so that was a very difficult call." Further, all volunteers pay for visits to Zambia out of their own pockets. "My heart, I guess, beats some African blood in it," she said. "I took off and went over there, and we worked like crazy." Through it all, she and Pratt have become close friends. As they tell the locals in Mikomfwa, she is Pratt's "second mayo" (mother). "She has put her education on hold for this," Bellavia said of Pratt. "She will be coming back in January to continue winter and spring terms. That's one of the things that she does struggle with. She feels a strong drive to help people this way, but she also feels a strong drive to finish her education." October is hot below the equator, Bellavia said, but work was completed. "All the hurdles have been overcome. The home is finished. The electricity is on. The water is running." The Membe family moved in Dec. 7. The first three orphans moved in the following day, including Melody, the little girl who first inspired Pratt and Violet Membe to undertake the project. Three more are scheduled to follow. Moreover, VIMA Lupwa Homes seeks to make the household self-sustaining. "Mr. Membe has a bachelor's in agriculture, so we were also able to purchase some extra land around the home, which he is going to fill with garden vegetables, fruit trees, chickens. Whatever he can do to help sustain the family in food, and also turn around and sell." "This is a Zambian project. We don't want (them) to be dependent on help coming from America forever. We want them to become independent. What we want to do is help them launch, and then little by little, decrease the assistance that is coming from here. And then, once that's done, we'll start on raising funds for a second home." 'A very giving community' Lupwa Homes' Bellavia, who has lived in Bend for 22 years, sums up the spirit of giving in Central Oregon. "It is a fact that Bend is a very giving community," she said. "It's not difficult to find people who are willing or interested in working on a project to help Third World countries, or people in the Third World. And, of course, there's a lot of help needed here. No matter what anybody does, whether it's one individual or a group or a large organization or whatever it is, we're all there for the same reasons: to help people, either here or abroad. They're all noble; they're all noble projects. And it's exciting to live in a community that is supportive and willing to help other people." This is the Bulletin’s site with the complete article: http://www.bendbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061217/NEWS01/612170316&SearchID=73279269328680 David Jasper can be reached at 383-0349 or firstname.lastname@example.org. From bendbulletin.com - published daily in Bend, Oregon, by Western Communications, Inc. Copyright 2006