Out of Africa

Out of Africa

McLean family hosts orphanage founders.

As rain poured down and throngs of people milled through Tysons Corner attending to last minute Mother's Day shopping on May 14, two families — one from Botswana, the other from McLean — arrived at L.L. Bean for a special shopping trip.

"They don't have anything like this," said McLean resident Dr. Brian Kidwell, Director of Alcohol and Drugs Awareness Program (ADAP) at the U.S. Department of State. "We brought them here because they have things that are durable and practical. They don't have L.L. Bean."

Gill and Brenda Fonteyn are the founders of the Dula Sentle orphanage in Botswana. Last week the couple visited New York and Washington, D.C. with their four adopted children, Kelebogile, 15, Shaba, 10, Tichina, 8, Cheyene, 5. In New York, the Fonteyn's were honored by the United Nations for their extraordinary successes at Dula Sentle.

"We have 137 children, and not one single school drop-out, and not one pregnancy," said Gill Fonteyn. "Maybe we are just lucky, or maybe we are doing something correct… but what we want to do is tell people that it's possible and that there is hope."

On Thursday, May 11, the Fonteyn's arrived in Virginia for a 4-day visit. They stayed in McLean with the Kidwells, a family that has visited their orphanage in the village of Otse in Botswana. In March, Brian Kidwell went to Africa for work, and his wife Anne accompanied him, bringing along their 12-year-old son David. The family stayed for the entire month, traveling to South Africa , Mozambique, Swaziland and Botswana.

"I was happy that I got to go, but it was kind of sad to see how they lived," said David Kidwell. "It's a lot different than here."

For the Kidwells, Dula Sentle stood out among the other orphanages.

"It was just so impressive," said Anne Kidwell. "They ran it so well, and it was just so clean and organized. They have no drop-outs and no pregnancies because the kids just develop such self-esteem."

When the Kidwells heard that the Fonteyn family would be coming to the United States, they jumped at the chance to host them during the Washington, D.C. portion of their trip. The Kidwells arranged for several excursions, including trips to the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum, as well as a tour of the U.S. Capitol. In addition, Gill and Brenda Fonteyn were honored at the World Bank. They capped off their visit with a trip to L.L. Bean to buy supplies for Dula Sentle.

"We're looking at tents and camp equipment, as well as personal items like shoes for the kids," said Anne Kidwell.

In addition to their son David, the Kidwell's other two children, Jonathan, 26, and Christine, 23, also joined them for the L.L. Bean shopping trip. Jon Reeder, a manager at the Tysons Corner L.L. Bean, showed the families items such as the FR200 crank radio and the Wind-And-Go Flashlight. The Fonteyn children also picked out sunglasses and shoes for themselves.

GILL AND BRENDA FONTEYN founded Dula Sentle after a close friend died of AIDS in 1999, leaving her three children under their care.

"In the last moments of her life, all she could think of were her children," said Gill Fonteyn.

Many more of their friends died of AIDS, and many of them also asked Gill and Brenda Fonteyn to take care of their children.

"HIV had really started to take a toll on the population, and a lot of people were talking about what could be done and what should be done, but we didn't see too much happening," said Gill Fonteyn.

With the support of the Otse village chief, the Fonteyn's opened Dula Sentle in 2001. They believe that part of the orphanage's success is due to its emphasis on the importance of strong marriages that are built to last.

"A lot of organizations are run by directors," said Gill Fonteyn. "This one is run by a couple, by a mother and a father."

According to the World Trust Foundation, Botswana is rated by the World Health Organization as having the world's highest per capita rate of HIV/AIDS in people over 15 years old. This means that 4 in 10 adults are infected with the virus. In a population of 1.5 million, there are an estimated 78,000 orphans.

Dula Sentle receives funding from the community, the government, private donors and various corporate organizations. However, Gill and Brenda Fonteyn would ultimately like to see the orphanage become self sustaining. Dula Sentle is currently open for tourism, as it helps to generate income for the orphanage. Visitors can park an RV or set up a tent. In addition, the orphans learn how to make furniture, and how to run a shop to sell their products to tourists.

"Some of the plans for the future are to create more self sustaining projects like that," said Brian Kidwell. "They are used as a model, but they still need help and assistance."

The Kidwell's are currently making arrangements for another trip to Botswana in August. However, this visit would involve more than just their family.

"We are getting a team together," said Anne Kidwell. "It's going to be a mixed group."

So far, the team includes friends of Christine Kidwell, and a few local doctors from McLean.

"When we came back from our trip in March, David had to have surgery and when the anesthesiologist put him out, he kept talking about all these animals," said Anne Kidwell.

David's doctor's inquired about his comments, and Anne Kidwell related the details of their family trip to Africa, and their plans to re-visit Dula Sentle. David's doctors immediately expressed interest in joining them on their trip, and the Kidwells were elated at the prospect of having doctors as part of their group. They will continue to recruit volunteers for the August trip over the next few months.