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One Song, One Child at a Time

Fairfax Station couple sponsors World AIDS Day concert to help AIDS orphans in South Africa.

Fairfax Station is a long way from Hamburg, South Africa, but one family makes the distance feel like a short drive down the road.

For the past few years, Amy and Alec Zacaroli have raised money for residents in the South African town of Hamburg, many of whom are infected with HIV or AIDS. Through their charitable organization, 25:40, the Zacarolis have been able to fund a full-time doctor who works within Hamburg and other villages, providing health care and medical advice to HIV/AIDS infected adults and children. The organization takes its name from a Bible verse, Matthew 25:40, 'I tell you in truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"We've been trying to raise enough money for the past year or so now to build a mother and child care center in Hamburg," said Amy Zacaroli. "The doctor we work with, Carol Baker, opened an adult clinic there in July 2005, but it wasn't an appropriate place for children."

IN THE PAST YEAR, the Zacarolis sold CDs, conducted a few fund raisers and were able to raise the 100,000 Rand — the South African equivalent of between $20,000 and $25,000 — to pay for the renovation of a small house in Hamburg which became the mother and child clinic.

"This fits in perfectly with our mission to help children," she said.

As stated on the 25:40 Web site [www.2540.org], the group aims to help children who have been orphaned in South Africa. Instead of looking to solve the problem in one large gesture, they've adopted the more personal approach of "One child at a time."

The Zacarolis make at least one trip to South Africa each year, often taking their children, to check up on the work they fund. This year, Amy Zacaroli said she went with her mother-in-law, Pat Thomas, and saw the early stages of the clinic's construction.

"The clinic was an existing house that had been abandoned but we renovated it," Zacaroli said. "There's one room with a lot of windows. It's kind of like a long one-room school house."

Patients, many of whom walk for miles to be seen at the clinic, meet with a doctor in private, curtain-separated rooms. Women can get pre- and post-natal care, along with immunizations for their children an medications for AIDS or any number of illnesses that run rampant in the area.

Amy Zacaroli said many of the patients come from neighboring villages and had to walk through the desert heat to go to the clinic because nothing was available closer to their homes.

To continue funding the work 25:40 sponsors in South Africa, the second annual World AIDS Day concert has been scheduled for Friday, Dec. 1 at the Church of the Abiding Presence in Burke, starting at 7:30 p.m.

"The concert is a mix of contemporary hymns and the performance of some original songs," Zacaroli said.

There will also be a showing of a video the Zacarolis have commissioned, showing what life is like in Hamburg for patients at the clinic.

The film, shot over a week in September, was overseen by Pippa Hetherington, a resident of Cape Town who works for 25:40.

"We essentially tried to capture the area as authentically as possible so that people in America can get a 'slice of life' feeling," wrote Hetherington, in an e-mail.

The story is told through the eyes of Eunice Mangwane, an HIV/AIDS educator and manager of the health care centers. "The movie is her story of an orphan, Nkululeko ... we filmed from sunrise to sunset for a short week, then edited it here in Cape Town. The message is simple, to communicate 25:40's motto, 'One Child at a Time.'"

Hetherington said she first became involved in 25:40 after her husband, Alex, reunited with his old friend Alec Zacaroli in Washington a few years ago. The two men had known each other as boys in South Africa.

"Over the past couple of years I have witnessed the Zacarolis' dedication and commitment to something they have strong feelings about and took up the liaison position six months back to create some kind of presence here," she said. "I'm basically the eyes and ears on a grass roots level and I communicate the happenings here back to the guys in Washington."

Although the mother and childcare clinic only opened in September, Hetherington said the response has been immediate.

"On the first day, over 20 HIV-positive children were brought in," she said. "Most of them had been seen by Dr. Baker in the village but no one had brought them forward as children living with HIV."

WITH THE CLINIC up and running, the children can now be monitored and given medication to keep their disease under control, Hetherington said.

"Eunice Mangwane feels that education is key, so she uses the opportunity of having HIV positive mothers in one place at one time to generate support groups and raise issues they need to talk about and recognize," Hetherington said.

Residents of Hamburg have been grateful for the assistance provided by 25:40, she said, not only in financial support but by listening to the people who live there and trying to meet their needs.

"They are a much-loved and respected organization here," Hetherington said.

Closer to home, Alexandria resident David Steiner will be playing piano at the concert on Dec. 1.

"This is a chance to reach across the ocean to help people we couldn't otherwise relate to," Steiner said. "What the Zacarolis are doing is really powerful."

Despite speaking different languages and living in different cultures, Steiner said using music to tell the story of AIDS orphans and other children in need makes the problem easy to understand.

When his 2-year-old son was diagnosed with Type I diabetes earlier this year, Steiner said he was able to understand, to a small degree, the urgent need for medical care and attention for children who have a disease to manage.

"This has opened our hearts and minds to what these kids are facing," he said. "The concert is a way to learn about the mission of the program and find out how we can all be involved, even from this distance."