Mbali came into my life three years ago and we have meet for a half hour once a week, most weeks since then. She lives in South Africa, which, according to Google is 8,272 miles, (as the crow flies), from my home in Pittsburgh. We refer to each other as “Net Buddies.” since we meet online, and were matched to talk with each other under the auspices of an organization called, Infinite Family. http://infinitefamily.org/
The organization was begun by two women who had gone to Africa to adopt babies. When they saw the extent of the need on a continent where one tenth of the people are infected with HIV and where, a whole generation is missing in many communities, they realized they could never adopt enough children to make a difference. Their vision became to use technology to bring together teens in Africa affected by HIV/AIDS with adults like me, willing to become a mentor and friend.
The adults and the teens filled out an application which included our interests. Being a grandmother of three sports-minded grandchildren, I hoped for a match with a girl who liked to dance, since, unlike sports, that is something I know quite a bit about. In the training program for adults we were told to temper our expectations since computers were new to the children and English was not their first language. But I never had trouble understanding Mbali’s English, and she far surpassed me in her abilities with the computer.
One day early on in our technological relationship, I became so distraught trying to get the sound on my computer to work I nearly give up on the whole project. But Mbali encouraged me. “It’s ok. We can just type.” And so we did. And we still do whenever my computer doesn’t recognize my headphones, or her headphones are missing, misplaced by the teenager that used them ahead of her.
When I first saw Mbali’s beautiful shimmering face, I fell in love with her. I felt immediately her respect and appreciation for the gift of my attention and interest in her. I loved having someone to share my love of dance with. And I knew what she did not, that in my country, most teens are not interested in having a relationship with an adult. It seems a rare teenager in the U.S. who even shows much respect to elders. So her relationship to me was at least as precious as mine was to her.
We came to speak of what her gifts might be, and how she might discover them, ways to avoid test anxiety and the best subjects to give a speech about for speech class. I shared my writing with her, my experiences doing InterPlay, and I taught her some InterPlay story forms. She’s met my grandkids, my husband, and our dog Clancy.
Sometimes we talk about politics; that they have a National Women’s Day holiday and we do not, why people criticize Obama so much, our mutual admiration for Nelson Mandela, and my appreciation for South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which I see as a peace-building model for the entire world.
Perhaps this video mentoring program is a model for the entire world. It seems to me to have changed both our lives. Mbali and I were interviewed about our relationship and it was featured on the BBC’s OUTLOOK radio program. Take a few minutes to listen and hear Mbali’s side of the story. When you click on the link, go to the top of the page and click on Listen Now. From there scroll ahead to 18:40 minutes to Infinite Family’s part of the program. Here is the link: