Local couple help build orphanage

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In the African country of Tanzania, there are an estimated 1.5 million orphans, children who are the legacy of the spread of HIV/AIDS and wars in neighboring Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo.

These children came to the attention of some Hilton Head residents in a fortuitous twist of events, and now, those residents are making a difference by working to open a new orphanage in Tanzania.

It all started about five years ago when Greg Kronz, the rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Hilton Head, was asked to host Valentine Mokiwa, the archbishop of the Diocese of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

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After hearing him preach, Mokiwa invited Kronz to his country. About a year later, Kronz and several other people traveled there to scout for mission projects, returning to Tanzania about a year later to work at a medical clinic. One of those people that traveled with Kronz was Dr. Rick Vanderslice of Hilton Head Island.

“From our personal perspective, Rick was taken with the people of Tanzania from his first trip,” said Rick's wife, Joni Vanderslice. “He knew that he wanted to do all that he could to help from a medical point of view and in any other way possible."

Joni made her first mission trip to the country in August 2009. That's when she saw firsthand the plight of the orphaned children.

"Our visit to an orphanage was the moment of truth for me," said Joni. "As we met and talked with the children, I realized what an impact we could make in their lives with a relatively small amount of money. Archbishop Valentine's vision to house, feed and educate these children became our dream as well."

So, the idea for Hope Orphanage was born. It will house 300-350 children and will be built on 400 acres owned by the Diocese of Dar es Salaam.

In May, Mokiwa traveled to Hilton Head, where he spent two weeks meeting people throughout the community who were interested in supporting Hope Orphanage. “The church is a global family, and I was here in the U.S. visiting my brothers and sisters who have been so kind and generous with their support for the orphanage,” Mokiwa said.

Rick said that during the archbishop's trip to Hilton Head, “it was amazing watching people step up. So many people have been so generous and want to hear the story about these children and what we’re doing to help, and they want to contribute in any way they can, whether financially, through their particular skills or expertise, or in any other way they can.”

Kronz, meanwhile, said bringing the Vanderslices, Mokiwa and others in the community together was nothing less than God's work. “When the Lord uses us in the way he used me in bringing other people to mission work such as this, that is the Lord’s way."

If you'd like to help support the Hope Orphanage, e-mail Joni Vanderslice at joniv@jbanksdesign.com.