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Teens travel to Africa
Group promoted AIDS awareness
Local teenagers Caleb Hayworth, Sarah Bryant, Christian Haygood Rebecca Vinke spent part of the summer spreading awareness about AIDS in Kenya. - photo by Submitted
A group of local teenagers traveled this summer to Kenya, where they spent about two weeks working with children who suffer from a life-threatening disease.

Forsyth Central High School graduates Sarah Bryant, Christian Haygood and Caleb Hayworth, all 18, participated in June in the Partners for Care organization’s efforts to spread awareness  on AIDS.

They were joined by 16-year-old Rebecca Vinke, a rising junior at Chestatee High School in neighboring Hall County.

The nonprofit organization provides training and funds social workers, nurses and counselors in an effort to help the Kenyan government test for and raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.

The trip was Haygood’s fourth to Kenya. This year, instead of going with his grandparents, he decided to share his humanitarian trip with some friends.

A group of about 10 dwindled to four. After some fundraising through bake sales, letters and a little music, they were on their way.

During their trip, the teens worked in a slum. They also spent the night at an orphanage where all 15 to 20 children who lived there have AIDS. The children ranged in age from 2 to 14 years old.

“I’ve never been around little kids who are dying, and I didn’t know how I was going to react to it, but just looking at them you would never know,” Bryant said.

The teens said they played jump rope with the orphans and painted a playground they had raised money to build.

“They’re so sweet,” Vinke said. “They just want to be touched and they want to touch your hair and they want you to hold them ... they got along so well.”

After the orphanage, they split into groups and went back to the slum to visit people dying of AIDS at their homes.

“It was really moving,” Haygood said.

They also helped Partners for Care with two “What If” concerts, which ask those who attend to consider what Africa would be like without AIDS.

During the shows the teens passed out commitment cards to concert-goers.

Those who signed the cards pledged to get tested for the disease, wait until marriage to have sex and to be faithful to one partner.

With more than 1,000 signatures, the group broke a record.

All four said they plan to return to Africa and continue with humanitarian efforts there.

“I definitely want to do more missions, not just to Kenya, but I definitely want to reach out to other countries too,” said Hayworth, who will attend Gainesville State College this fall.

In addition to AIDS awareness, he is interested in working in Uganda with the Invisible Children movement. The initiative focuses on rescuing children who have been kidnapped to fight a decades-long war against the Ugandan government.

Haygood, who will be attending Kennesaw State University, and Bryant both said they plan to study biology in college.

And Bryant, who is going to North Georgia College & State University, said she is considering a career in AIDS research as a result of her trip.

“What I’ve always wanted to do is go into epidemiology,” she said. “I was definitely thinking how that could all tie in together. Because now that we’ve all been over there, we’re really passionate about the AIDS research they’re doing over there because we’ve seen it first hand.”

Vinke said she’s still considering what she can do while finishing high school.

“Coming back and having seen all that we had seen, that was the hard part,” she said. “You don’t want to forget what you had seen.”