Welcome and Thank You

Welcome and Thank You

As I enter into this new world of communication—my first of many blogs to come on our brand new Thembanathi website—I wanted to take a few minutes to introduce myself, to share a bit about myself and what brought me to start this organization, and to thank those who have helped us over the last several years.

I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and was blessed to have the opportunity to attend an alternative education program, where I not only was immersed in a foreign language but also had talented teachers from a number of countries who taught me about global awareness at a very young age. Early on, I also developed an interest in social justice, which was clearly influenced by my family, my upbringing in a progressive community, and the international opportunities I had.

Beginning in ninth grade, I started to get involved in HIV prevention and awareness work, participating in the establishment of a peer-education program at my high school. After serving as a leader of the program throughout high school, I initiated a similar program in the middle and high schools in the town where I went to college—Middletown, Connecticut. Then, as my focus began to shift to the devastating HIV pandemic in Africa, I became interested in researching programs to prevent HIV in other parts of the world. Over the summer of 2003, between my junior and senior years of college, I received a grant to go to South Africa to conduct research on how women’s empowerment theories where being used in HIV prevention programs.

While in South Africa that summer, I had the opportunity to visit Holy Cross AIDS Hospice, a program in a rural area about an hour and a half north of Durban. I was motivated by the drive of this community-based project to offer a broad array of services to young people in the area, including a preschool they were operating out of an old, single-car garage behind the hospice.

Young boy with his brother South Africa 2003 On these first visits to Holy Cross, I also came to know certain young people and families who inspired me with their kindness, love, and care despite incredible challenges. These individuals have definitely been the emotional force behind Thembanathi. For example, there was one young girl named Noxolo, whom I met in my second visit to our primary project site at Holy Cross Hospice and care center. Her mother had come into the hospice terminally ill with AIDS and had brought her daughter with her because there was no one left at home to care for her. Over the next several weeks, as her mother’s life slowly slipped away, those of us living at the hospice became Noxolo’s caregivers. I developed a particularly strong relationship with her. Eventually, some time after her mother had passed away, program staff found a family member to take her in, and she moved in with her relatives. My father has said many times that the HIV epidemic in Africa became real for him when he saw this young child in my arms and heard me talk affectionately about her sweet ways. Inspired by the work of Holy Cross and its director, Sister Priscilla Dlamini, who has dedicated her life to serving children in her community, a South Africa colleague, Angela Larkan, and I decided to start Thembanathi with the goal of supporting Holy Cross and other programs like it.

Since my first trip to South Africa, I have gone on to get a master’s degree in international health and will soon be completing a joint PhD in public health and anthropology from Johns Hopkins University. I have had the opportunity to return to this part of South Africa for several months each year since my first visit in 2003. Studying the effects of HIV/AIDS on young people and families has continued to be the focus of my work, both in my professional research capacity and in the work I do for Thembanathi.

At the center of Thembanathi’s work is a mother-daughter team. My mother, Helen Towle, has helped me manage the project since its initiation. These days, while I focus much of my attention on research and policy work, Helen has taken on the day-to-day management of our project as a “retirement career.” She is now a full-time volunteer for Thembanathi and the heart of the organization. Further, my father, Dennis Reynolds, has been involved since the start of the project and offers his career expertise as an early childhood education expert. His involvement in this field is probably part of what drew me to get involved in the family and child-focused work in the first place.

From its small beginnings, Thembanathi has expanded through friends and other supporters, who have worked to help us realize this project dreamed up by hopeful and idealistic young people wanting to make a difference. I would like to thank my family and friends and the expanding network of people we have met along the way who have been inspired by our story and given us their support. I’d also like to thank Andrew Klaber and my colleagues at Orphans Against AIDS. Without all of you, we wouldn’t have been able to sustain our work over the last eight years. I am hopeful that you all will continue to be part of our team as we continue to support the programs we have been working with since we began and expand to take on a new exciting project in a community in desperate need of our help (more about that in the next blog).

Also, I want to give a special thank you to two people who donated their time and talent to make this wonderful new website possible. Thank you to Michael Huddleston for all his work, vision, and technical guidance. We couldn’t have done it without you, Michael. And thank you to Heather Gardner-Madras for sharing her expertise and beautiful design work with us.

LindseyLindsey in South Africa 2003