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Legend helps fight HIV/AIDS

January 26, 2007

Herald Staff Writer

SARASOTA - Tennis legend Martina Navratilova takes center court this weekend at Longboat Key Club & Resort to raise $100,000 for a Zimbabwe orphanage that cares for children whose parents have died of HIV/AIDS.

The theme - "Tearing Down Walls and Building Hope."

Cut-off from the world by the cruel hand of dictator Robert Mugabe, the children of Zimbabwe suffer in a land devastated by soaring unemployment, a rampant AIDS epidemic and starvation.

Within this sea of despair, Navratilova has found an island of hope and a new mission - the Children of Mother of Peace Orphanage run by Mother Jean Cornneck, better known as "Mamma Jean."

A self-sustaining community of more than 200 children, the orphanage is a model for recovery, said the Rev. Cindi Love, leader of the worldwide Metropolitan Community Church, whose HIV/AIDS outreach efforts support Mamma Jean's work.

Navratilova, Love and her son, Joshua, who has worked with Mamma Jean, shared hopes for the orphanage in an interview Thursday.

It was Love who convinced her friend Navratilova to add the orphanage to her long list of philanthropic causes.

With its emphasis on self-sufficiency, Mamma Jean's home was exactly the kind of the project Navratilova said she likes to support - small, manageable, focused and empowering.

"We are going to make sure that $100,000 raised goes directly to Zimbabwe," said Navratilova, a Nokomis resident. "We don't want to lose one penny. I like to get involved in smaller projects because they can make a difference immediately."

And immediate help, Love said, is what the orphanage needs. The political situation has deteriorated so rapidly recently that the orphanage is in peril, Love said.

"Zimbabwe is so isolated," said Love. "We have to hand-carry this money to them to make sure they get it. Mugabe will not allow any of Gates Foundation money or other funds targeted for AIDS relief to come in. The dictator does not want these people to live."

And the real key to helping Mugabe's victims is helping them help themselves.

The orphanage has a garden and bakery, Love said. Mamma Jean and her followers built a dam to create a fresh, safe water supply and then stocked the lake with fish to provide food for neighboring villages, as well as the children. The orphanage then trades the commodities it raises for necessities it cannot produce.

Joshua Love coordinates Metropolitan Church's global HIV/AIDS projects. He will travel to Zimbabwe in late March to hand-carry the proceeds of this weekend's charity events to Mamma Jean.

"There is 80 to 90 percent unemployment in Zimbabwe," he said. "The children must be taught how to take care of themselves in some sustainable model that is not dependent upon employment in an urban setting. Mamma Jean's model does exactly that."

Teaching self-sufficiency is the only way to save them, particularly because of the AIDS epidemic ravishing the country, said the Rev. Love.

"They are going to have to find their own way, because all of the adults are going to die," she said. "Soon, there won't be any adults left in Zimbabwe."

Other parts of Africa more open to media have benefitted from AIDS relief efforts, but Zimbabwe suffers because it is cut off, Love said.

"No one would pay attention to Zimbabwe if someone like Martina didn't call attention to it," Love said.

Navratilova hopes charity events this weekend will be a fundraising model that can be duplicated elsewhere.

"If it works well here, why not?" Navratilova asked. "But we need help. We can't do it on our own."

Donna Wright, health and social services reporter, can be reached at 745-7049 or at

If you go

Several of the weekend events benefiting Martina Navratilova's newest charity are sold out. Tickets remain for the following:


4:30 to 5:15 p.m. Public reception at Church of the Trinity, 7225 N. Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota. Navratilova book signing. Tickets available, $25 donation.


9 to 10:30 a.m. Tennis clinic with Navratilova, Longboat Key Club. $1,000 donation to play. $50 to observe.

After brunch Private tennis lessons for two for silent auction bidders. $10,000 minimum bid each.

Order tickets at

For more information about the Metropolitan Community Church and the Children of the Mother of Peace Orphanage, go to


"Reproduced with permission - BRADENTON HERALD"



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