CLEARWATER — Rebecca McDonald has always had a fascination with Africa, even as a child.
So in 1999 when she heard that the National Hospice Foundation, for which she's worked for 31 years, had a program that partnered American hospice organizations with those in the sub-Saharan, she had to learn more.
The next year in May, McDonald, 63, was making her first trip to Soweto, South Africa.
"I just have this affinity for Africa and the people of Africa," McDonald said. "I believe one of my former lives was there."
Since that time, McDonald and the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast have raised more than $100,000 and sent suitcases of medical supplies to Soweto, a city that's fighting a losing battle against AIDS/HIV.
"Generations between the ages of 18 and 60 are being wiped out by the AIDS epidemic," said McDonald, executive vice president of Programs for Hospice of the Florida Suncoast. "We are a global village and we are brothers and sisters in this global economy. Hospice is the same worldwide: compassion to help people live life well until they die."
This evening, Hospice of the Florida Suncoast will host its inaugural A Taste of Good Hope, a fundraiser in which the proceeds will go to the Soweto effort. There will be South African wine and tea as well as a silent auction of local and South African art. A band will perform.
"I want to see us grow this partnership with the community," McDonald said. "There are still people who have a heart for people who are suffering."
At best count, there are some 2-million people in Soweto, a mining town and a flash point in the struggle to end apartheid, which repressed the country's blacks. Many of them live in tin shacks. McDonald said there is a 60 percent unemployment rate and a 30 percent HIV/AIDS infection rate in the country.
Last year, eight Hospice of Florida Suncoast workers made the trip to Soweto and this year, three Soweto workers spent time in Clearwater.
When the trip is made to South Africa, supplies such as vitamins, over-the-counter drugs and medical dressings are taken. In the poor country, with so many people dying slow deaths, the supplies are needed, McDonald said.
Dwight Douglass, a bereavement counselor at Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, made the trip to Soweto last year. He said he learned from the workers there.
"How dare I go over and try and teach them anything," Douglass said. "They (hospice workers) keep going despite the challenges. It's good for the spiritual eyes to see the great work that they do."
"I'm so impressed by the spirituality and faith," she said. "That no matter how bad things were, they are going to get better."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or [email protected]