Zimbabwe is MY backyard

                        If we wait to feed, educate, and meet the healthcare needs 
                        of every American child before we look beyond our borders 
                        then what will the rest of the world look like?     
                                  -Lucy Griswold (activist/humanitarian)

                       Improved technology, population growth and globalization have 

                      made today's world increasingly interdependent. Therefore, putting 
                      your own country's interests first, at the expense of others, can have 
                      serious consequences. What we need to do is think of humanity as a 
                      whole, and develop a sense of concern on a global level.
                      I refer to this as having a sense of universal responsibility.
                                                          -Dalai Lama

I've had wonderful local and global support for my three year old organization, House of Loveness (HOL), but I still get the occasional comments, "Our children in the U.S. need help:  why are you helping the children in Africa?" and "There are children in your backyard who  need help — you should spend your money here."

While I admire the movement Think Globally, Act Locally, I also know that my own back yard extends well beyond Indiana where I am based at the moment. I grew up with parents who were do-ers. They gave their money to help a person in need — and, more important, they gave their time. If they saw a need that they could help fix, they didn't turn away. I will always be grateful for the example my parents, Richard and Virginia Blankenbaker, set for me.  They consistently modeled for me what it looked like to give back in one’s own community. My father died too young, at the age of 59, before he could be fully appreciated for his generous spirit.  Twenty-three years after his death, I still run into people in Indianapolis who tell me that my father (quietly) helped them in some way. 

   My father, Richard Blankenbaker   
My mother, after serving for 12 years as an Indiana State Senator, lost (questionable) elections for the Indianapolis mayor’s office and for the U.S. Congress.  Her constituents’ loss was our family's gain.  After her loss in the election for Congress, she retired from politics and eventually won an even better victory. She met and married an incredible man, John Williams, nearly 20 years after my father died.  John too embraces a generous spirit. John sent me a supportive but sobering letter before I left for Zimbabwe for the first time — providing a serious case for looking for a more stable country for adoption.  I went anyway: and John and my mother have cheered me on every trip since then.

 My mother Virginia and my soulfather, John Williams
HOL came about after a trip to Zimbabwe in November 2008 to adopt a baby girl that had recently been abandoned.  One day during the height of the cholera epidemic in Zim, a man wheeled a dirty wheelbarrow into the local hospital. Inside were four babies less than three months old, all abandoned in the nearby fields.  One was a girl and three were boys. The nurses at the hospital gave them names. The girl was named Loveness.

I learned about Loveness through a friend, and immediately sent a letter advising the CEO of the hospital that I wanted to adopt Loveness. I spent the next three weeks gathering the paperwork I needed for Zimbabwe (I had never been to Africa) and preparing my home for a new baby.   I left for Zimbabwe with 300 lbs of donations from family and friends for the four abandoned babies.  I was not prepared for what happened next.

I arrived to the news that Loveness had died just before I got there: all the babies had died. After 20 hours of flying, I found myself on the way to see her in the hospital morgue. I looked at Loveness wrapped in white gauze but I couldn't bring myself to hold her, a decision I regret to this day. Eight days later, on December 2, I buried Loveness in a local cemetery in a field of fresh graves.  In a white coffin, Loveness was surrounded by four baby boys whose unclaimed bodies had been in the morgue for more than week. I threw dirt on all five coffins while nurses from the hospital sang beautiful African songs. The moment I buried Loveness,  Zimbabwe became my back yard.

  Burying Loveness and the boys  
During the rest of the trip,  I spent my days at the hospital caring for six other abandoned children who were 'living' in the children's ward.  Two of the children, Kuda and Primrose, had been at the hospital for over two years. This was no place to spend a childhood. I asked about moving the children.  Within four months (and three trips later) the six children had been moved to an orphanage — and into a private home donated by a local foster mother.  Now, three years later, House of Loveness has provided emergency and long-term care for nearly a hundred children. All of the HOL children are now in school. In a country where one in four children dies under the age of five, the HOL children are now beating the odds.

  HOL founder Betsy Blankenbaker in Zimbabwe  

So when you ask me, why Africa, why Zimbabwe, or why not the U.S., my answer is this. I experienced a heart-wrenching problem in Zimbabwe and was given the choice: act or walk away and I chose to act.  Burying Loveness reminded me that I'm human before I'm American.  Staying on in Zimbabwe to help, reminded me that I'm a Blankenbaker.

                                                  -Betsy Blankenbaker, House of Loveness

                    Tax-deductible donations to House of Loveness can be made through 
                    our fiscal sponsor, From The Heart Productions. Special thanks to Carole 
                    Dean of  FTHP for believing in the future of these remarkable children.



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