When Georgina-Kate Adams was 17, she had a lesson on World Aids Day that changed her life – and that of a little girl thousands of miles away.
She felt she had to do something, even if it made just a small difference, to the impact HIV was having on the world.
‘I was very young and obviously I knew a little about HIV and the myths,’ says Georgina-Kate, a freelance writer.
‘But I was completely bamboozled, particularly by the statistic that more people have died of Aids that both world wars put together.’
Within months she had organised a trip to Swaziland, the country with the highest density of HIV in the world.
Her job was to look after the children in a care centre whose families could not afford to send them to school.
She says: ‘I was thrown straight into it.
‘On my first day we went to the market and a big sing-song and dancing competition started up. I was instantly smitten with the whole culture.’
She adds: ‘When I first arrived at the care centre you could hardly walk two steps through the gate without children hanging off you. They’d climb all over you wanting cuddles and wanting to play.
‘Lelo was also a fun-loving child, but she wasn’t scrambling all over me.
‘She had so much grace. She was quiet, but loving. I didn’t notice her for the first couple of days.’
Lelo was eight at the time and Georgina-Kate says, ‘She showed amazing wisdom, she really wanted to learn.
‘We did really simple things together, like dot-to-dot.’
Although she was drawn to Lelo, Georgina-Kate was aware of the ethical dilemma of sponsoring her education.
She says, ‘Just going into somewhere and saying “I choose you. You are the one who is going to get your life changed”. Other volunteers did not sponsor children for that very reason.
‘But I did not choose Lelo, she chose herself. She showed an interested in learning.
‘It was criminal that this child was not in school.
‘When I left, through lots of tears I swore to her I would get the money to send her to school.’
And she did, out of her student loan.
The pair kept up a correspondence through letters and Georgina-Kate was sent report cards showing Lelo was top of the class.
She left primary school with a merit – the top honour.
It was seven years before they saw each other again. Georgina-Kate got a job in Swaziland with a fair trade social enterprise and was able to be there on Lelo’s first day of boarding school as a senior.
‘I was up until 2am the day before sewing her name into her knickers!’
She adds, ‘Lelo is recognised throughout the community as being smart. I’ll be on a bus in Swaziland and people will say, “Lelo, I know her. She is really smart”.’
It is tough for Lelo’s eight-strong household and for some time Georgina-Kate has been sending food parcels because, she says, ‘a child can’t learn if they’re hungry.’
Lelo is now at boarding school with two years to go. The £4,000-a-year fees are paid for by crowd-funding through The Seed, an organisation set up by Georgina-Kate.
She says: ‘It is based on the idea that if you educate a girl, you plant the seed to change a community, a nation and every future generation. It starts with one girl and one scholarship.’
‘Educated women marry later, have fewer children, they don’t have more children than they can afford to feed and educate,’ she adds.
‘They are healthier and earn more respect in their community.
‘It’s not guaranteed, but the evidence shows that educated girls are less vulnerable to rape and HIV. If you educate a girl she will educate her children and they will educate theirs. The cycle of poverty is stopped.’
In a startling statistic, there is evidence women in the developing world invest 90 per cent of their income back into the family, while men invest just 35 to 40 per cent.
‘Educating a girl has such a positive impact on her family,’ she says.
It is 10 years since what Georgina-Kate describes as a meeting of two souls in that Swaziland care centre. In July Lelo will be 18 and Georgina-Kate feels they have gone full circle.
Her hope is that Lelo will win a place at an international university because further education opportunities are extremely limited in Swaziland.
‘In the course of my relationship with Lelo, I have learned just as much, if not more, than she has learned from me,’ she says.
‘Even though I give her advice and study tips, ever since she was eight years old she has had a real sense of maturity and wisdom that I found inspirational.
‘It’s an honour to have been able to play a small part in her journey.
‘We look after each other. I’m a really strong believer in the idea of a global family. I consider that I have my biological family in England and a huge family across Africa.’
‘It had changed my life in many ways’
A message from Lelo:
‘Being with George for 10 years has been awesome and I can’t even explain how I feel about us.
‘She is a life-saver, a friend and more like a sister to me.
‘It’s quite hard to believe that God has kept us together for all these years. I guess we were heavenly designed.
‘Being sent to this school has changed my life in many ways.
‘I never knew how to use computers and I never spoke English. I also never got to meet different kinds of people.
‘My family is very happy for me and they have so much hope in me.
‘I am making sure that I never get to disappoint them.
‘Both my family and l have benefited from The Seed sponsorship and we are thankful.
‘I will make sure that I do my best to make George and my family happy. They mean the world to me.’
Lelo has two-and-a-half-years left at school, which Georgina-Kate will be funding through her organisation, The Seed.
To do that she hopes generous supporters will donate through crowdfunding and their own efforts.
If you are considering doing a run, swim or cycle this year – or any other big event – then Georgina-Kate would be grateful if you would consider supporting Lelo and raising much-needed money for The Seed.
For more information on how to help, go to theseedafrica.com.