SEP–DEC 2009

10/16 10/19

Toronto, Canada

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.....A month after that, she was on a plane to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, for a two-week visit. Objective: Sow the seeds that would one day create an orphanage to shelter homeless orphans whose parents had died of AIDS. No small task, considering the more than 600,000 orphans in this country of 10 million.

Today, 19 months after spying that first news photo, Padilla is once again winging back to Africa. This time she’ll stay, turning dream into reality on a 100-acre plot that will one day contain 60 homes, a school, clinic and farm.

Not bad for a 49-year-old single mother of four who just quit her job as a receptionist at a law firm. “You can do whatever you put your mind to,” says Padilla, who so far has raised $55,000 from generous Southern Arizonans. That’s been enough to put a 25 percent down payment on the land, rent a home/office in Lusaka and hire one staffer.

Determination is one thing. Knowing how to get things done is another. “One reason I was sure I could pull this off was I had written grants for years, “ says Padilla. She got nothing. “The foundations just don’t realize what a huge problem AIDS is in Africa.” Instead, she started scrambling for dollars while speaking at churches, schools and civic affairs.

It’s familiar territory for Padilla, a social activist since the late ‘60s. For years, she helped smuggle Central American refugees into Tucson as part of the Sanctuary movement. She’s also worked with the homeless, helped start a program to get perishable food to the hungry, and taught low-income kids how to do bike repairs. Then there was the bookstore she ran that barely broke even. Divorced and with two kids still in high school, she became a receptionist at the law firm of Cavett and Fulton five years ago.

Then came the July 4, 1999 news article and photos about Zambia. After researching the subject, she sought out people in the know, including a Midwestern Minister. “He told me to talk to the women at the YWCA in Lusaka.” That’s exactly what she did not long after arriving in Lusaka in October of ’99. “I walked into the YWCA and told the receptionist, ‘Hi, I’m Kathe Padilla from the U.S. and I’m here to help the homeless orphans living in the streets of Lusaka’”  A three-hour meeting with YWCA Executive Director Juliet Chilangwa followed. “We hit it right off,” says Padilla. Within a few days, Chilangwa – who has since quit her job to join Padilla’s effort – had organized a meeting that became a Board of Directors in Zambia.

The goal is to help 500 orphans at a time, living in 60 homes. “It’s not warehousing of children,” says Padilla. “In Africa, family is very important.” In the meantime, the organization has already counseled grandmothers who bear the brunt of raising orphaned grandchildren. It’s also helping support 12 of those families.

In October, Padilla will temporarily return to Tucson to drum up more help. Everything from money to used household items is welcomed.

“I said to a friend, ‘Yes, I can make this happen,’ says Padilla. “But I knew I couldn’t make it happen alone.”

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