Amy Stokes, Founder of Infinite Family, With Mentees in Soweto Township

Image source: Creativityfuse.com

In the U.S. we are so accustomed to using email, video chat, social networks, and Google to navigate our everyday lives. In Sub-Saharan Africa however, these technologies are still unfamiliar to many, and inaccessible to most. In some ways, it’s hard to imagine how simple online communication can make a difference in people’s lives. At first I was skeptical—how does talking make someone less hungry or healthier? But the more I read about Amy Stokes and her organization, Infinite Family, the more I realized how critically important simple communication can be.

Stokes started Infinite Family shortly after adopting her son from an orphanage in Johannesburg in 2003. AIDS was leaving thousands of children without parents, and Stokes was moved to do something to help. It wasn’t just that these children were without parents, they were without positive adult role models. She decided to use technology to connect volunteers in the U.S. with children in Johannesburg, to provide mentoring and guidance for young people who desperately needed both.

The Logo for Amy Stokes' Non-Profit Organization

Image source: Lifeandstyle.colincowie.com

Infinite Family works to provide computer labs and computer training to African children. Then, those children are matched with volunteers half a world away, and the dialogue begins. Many of these kids have never used a computer. Simply learning that it is possible to connect with people anywhere on the planet opens up a world of possibilities… literally. Speaking with mentors who help with homework, listen to the children’s stories, and genuinely care about what happens to them creates a global village—a support network that extends so far beyond Johannesburg, the only place these kids have ever known. It gives the kids a sense of self-esteem and self-worth to know there are people out there who care about what happens to them.

Two Sisters in Johannesburg Using the Infinite Family Computer Lab to Meet With Mentor

Image source: Videoconferencing-review.com

This organization is so special for another reason: it allows volunteers to “travel” to Africa, to do real, consistent work that makes a huge difference in children’s lives, without ever getting on a plane. While there are many benefits to volunteer travel, this type of program presents a unique opportunity for a one-on-one experience that persists over time. The volunteers form real, deep, lasting relationships with the children they mentor. Volunteers meet with the kids every week, watching them learn and grow, and providing support for whatever may arise in the children’s life. The kids know they can hop on the computer and contact their mentor if they need to talk. That’s not something a few weeks in town can provide.

Infinite Family Staff With First Group of Mentees in Soweto Township, Johannesburg, 2010

Image source: Interbrand.com

Of course, along with the benefits this kind of contact can offer, there is also a commitment but that commitment brings with it unique and powerful rewards. According to Stokes: “If you reach out to them they will grab that lifeline and work so hard to make your investment of time and talent worth your while. They know that they are in a situation they would like to change… they struggle very hard until someone helps show them the way.”

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