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U.S. Helps Expand Orphan Care Center in Botswana

By Capt. Chris Miller, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service

MOLEPOLOLE, Botswana, April 28, 2006 – "Joy in our hearts," sang the small group of Bana Ba Keletso preschool children during the dedication ceremonies for the expansion of the Bana Ba Keletso Orphan Care Center here April 22.

U.S. European Command, through the Office of Defense Cooperation's humanitarian assistance program, provided more than $188,000 for the construction expansion of an administration building and multipurpose hall complete with a food-preparation facility.

Through the partnering efforts of the Rotary Club of Gaborone and the Department of Defense, more than 400 at-risk orphan children from the surrounding Molepolole area are nurtured by the staff of Botswana educators and child care specialists at the orphan center.

"Our knights in shining armor responded to the rallying cry for the daycare expansion," said Katherine Canavan, U.S. ambassador to Botswana. "Bana Ba Keletso represents what happens when civilian and government agencies have a vision. As a result of this partnership, these children have the potential to be productive adults. They are your windows of hope."

Botswana, with a population of about 1.6 million, has the second highest HIV infection rate in the world. There are an estimated 60,000 registered orphans in the country about the size of Texas.

"Bana Ba Keletso represents the spirit of self-reliance," said Maj. Gen. Moeng Pheto, Botswana's minister of labor and home affairs. "I recognize the contribution of the military and the difference you are making in the lives of these future leaders of Botswana."

The orphan care Center opened in 1998 as a community response to the ever-increasing number of children orphaned as a result of HIV. The program's broad goal is to involve the local Molepolole community in the fight against HIV and AIDS and to share in the responsibility of the upbringing and welfare of children orphaned as a result of the disease.

In addition, the children and their caregivers are given social, emotional, psychological and spiritual support through counseling.

"Construction of Phase II began in October 2005," said Army Maj. Andrew Overfield, chief of the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation in Botswana. "This is the fourth orphan care project funded by the ODC and the second project where we have partnered with the Rotary Club of Gaborone."

Bana Ba Keletso provides daycare for preschool children and after-school care for school-aged children. Extended family members are then able to work outside the home and older brothers and sisters can continue their education. A small clinic in the new administrative block, staffed by Baylor University, provides medical examinations and care to the children.

The ODC has also supported the construction of seven Tebeloplele counseling and testing Centers across Botswana where citizens can learn their HIV status. The ODC is currently working to begin construction of five more Tebeloplele centers.

(Navy Capt. Chris Miller is assigned to U.S. European Command Public Affairs.)

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