Lynne is both the Founder and Executive Director of Agape International, Inc.. She moved to India in 2000 and helped start an orphanage in Vijayawada supported by Jewish Voice. She founded Agape in 2003. Prior to moving to India, Lynne worked in investment management with D. K. Brede Investment Management Co. Inc.. She also worked with a number of nonprofits including The MA Easter Seal Society, WGBH Public Radio, and Abby’s Shelter.
Could you share the moment that made you want to start Agape?
A decision of this magnitude is a culmination of many moments. Two “catalysts” being the death of a dear friend who lost the cancer battle at a young age and a visit to India just prior where I saw the desperate need to look after innocent children who had been impacted by AIDS. The fact that there was a lot of stigma around AIDS meant that these children were completely abandoned by relatives and institutions.
Why the name Agape and what does the organization hope to achieve?
The word “AGAPE” is a Greek word for divine love, sacrificial love, and charity. We also use it as and acronym for “Ambassadors of Goodwill for AIDS Patients Everywhere” “The greatest disease in the today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for”: quote from Mother Teresa.
We serve to bring life and hope to HIV infected/affected children who’ve had endure neglect (many on the brink of death)and discrimination. Empowering them today to face real life challenges tomorrow by becoming self sustaining, productive members of the global community. Our motto is caring for children from cradle to college.
Can you share some data on how many children in India are orphaned because of HIV parents?
80% of children with AIDS die before their 5th birthday if untreated
Every year 55,000 to 60,000 children are born to HIV+ mothers
Every year 21,000 babies are born HIV+
26,000 HIV+ children live in Andhra Pradesh alone
1,500 babies born each year in Andhra Pradesh that are HIV+
64% of HIV+ children between the ages of 2 and 10 are malnourished and underweight
What is a day life at the center?
Like most children, they eat, play, pray, clean their rooms, have good days and bad, go to the hospital as required, attend school and 29, most of whom came to us near death, are now attending college.
Where does your funding come from?
We are solely funded through the generosity of individual donors, many of whom have been supporting us for most of our existence. Our total operating budget is around $350,000 which is met by donors sponsoring children. It costs $54 per month to pay for housing, food and medical expenses of an HIV+ child, and $29 per month for an HIV- child. We also have an English-medium school with classes running from kindergarten through high school. This costs $468 per child. We feel that having control over the quality of education is critical to making our children productive citizens. We have not raised the sponsorships levels since they were set almost a decade ago despite inflation running very high in India.
What are the challenges of running these centers?
Not owning our own land/buildings and the challenges that come by running multiple sites, multiple house owners and multiple neighbors who don’t want us in their community because of the fear and discrimination that people have of people living with HIV/AIDS. Second would be staffing. There are very few people that are willing to work with HIV positive kids and even if some that are willing their extended family members don’t allow them.
Do you get any help from the government?
Do you visit US and is there a team here?
Yes, I visit US twice a year, usually in May and for our annual fundraiser in October (October 7th this year). We have a Board of Directors but our team in the US consists of two long-time donors, Joe and Maria Joseph, who take care of all the administrative work.
Finally how can people interested do to help?
We are not known in the Indian community. We would like Lokvani to spread the word and increase the involvement of successful Indians living here who want to give back to the country they came from and help the children left behind. We would like to get some help from foundations to help us raise money for a capital project that could lay the foundation of tacking the problem of children with AIDS in India.