Blowing bubbles with an HIV-infected boy at a pediatric AIDS clinic in Lesotho forever changed 22-year-old Andrew Steele.
"He had the biggest smile on his face every time he blew a bubble," Steele said. "After playing for a while, he climbed into my arms. Because of his HIV, he lost his energy quickly, and I couldn't hold back the tears knowing that this boy would never be able to live a full life. At that moment I knew I had to do more to help the orphaned children of Lesotho."
|ELCA missionary Andrew Steele gives and receives hugs from children in Lesotho. He now serves in South Africa.|
An impoverished nation surrounded entirely by South Africa, Lesotho is home to 1.9 million, more than 30 percent of whom are affected with HIV/AIDS, including hundreds of thousands of orphaned children. Steele first traveled to Lesotho while at Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio, which has sponsored six service trips to the kingdom.
"I was moved by the generosity, kindness, laughter and smiles of the people when I was there," said Steele, whose parents are both ELCA pastors living in Moorestown, N.J. "And to see so many of them in dire circumstances, where many of their basic life's needs weren't being met, was heartbreaking."
Determined to make a difference, Steele returned to Wittenberg with a vision, and soon thereafter the nonprofit BLOOM Africa was born. Dedicated to bringing Lesotho orphans opportunities and materials, BLOOM Africa actively collaborates with other African nations and world partners on educational programming, sustainability initiatives and financial support.
Several young Wittenberg graduates have joined in Steele's vision. In only a few months, the organization has secured funding for two water tanks for an orphanage through A Drink for Tomorrow, established a Leadership Fund in partnership with the Canadian-based organization Help Lesotho, and is working with Laptops to Lesotho, among other projects.
"BLOOM Africa believes that every child in the world deserves a childhood," said Steele, who now serves in South Africa through the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission Program. "We want to provide hope and a future to the children who need it most."
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers