Local Woman Comes to Aid of Orphaned Ethiopians With HIV

Fundraiser for Gift of Love Asko orphanage this weekend

A year and a half ago, Vanessa Lazar stood in a room with 30 cribs, where 30 crying infants vied for attention from the eight staff members of the Gift of Love Asko orphanage in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. Those eight staff members were charged with the care, not only of those infants, but also of the orphanage's 310 other children, ages ranging up to 16-years-old, all diagnosed with HIV. As a native Chicagoan who'd been a homeless single mom at age 19, Lazar had taken a winding path to end up, at 31-years-old, in an Ethiopian nursery. The spokeswoman for homelessness turned advocate turned teen pregnancy workshop leader had read in the newspaper about famine in Ethiopia and decided, simply put, "to do something."

At first, she says, "I was gonna collect canned goods and clothing and ship it over there – it was just my ignorance because you can't go do stuff like that." So instead, she enlisted the help of Save the Children, after seeing STC Director Dennis Walto on TV and calling him up for advice. The group helped publicize her grassroots fundraisers, from carwashes to silent auctions, and brought her to Ethiopia to donate her funds to a feeding center. While there, she toured the programs STC supported, which brought her to Gift of Love. Once again, she decided to do something, but rather than go through Save the Children, which provides psychotherapy for the children, she decided to go it alone so that she could give the orphans something they weren't already getting – a chance at survival.

Lazar hopes to raise enough money to provide antiretroviral therapy to each child at the orphanage, which has now grown to 400 children. It's an ambitious goal, considering the medication costs around $100 a month per child, but she's in it for the long haul. "If I go at the rate that I'm going, it could take years," she admits, "but the thing I'm trying to do right now in Austin is educate people on the need for it." Lazar kicks off her fundraising campaign this Saturday at Body Vida/ Kim Soo Martial Arts, 1109 S. Congress, with "Around the World in Eighty Fashions," a fashion show with clothing from Rikki Rae Designs, dance from Roy Lozano Ballet Folklórico, live music from Zappinatra, and food from Taj Palace. Tickets are $40, available at www.reflektionsevents.com.

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