The Valentine Project
By Jane Kendall
Photography by Christian Lee
Dr. Rick and Joni Vanderslice met on a blind date on Hilton Head Island in 1996. Their instant attraction led to marriage just a year later. Rick is the founder of the Urology Group on Hilton Head Island and Joni is the president and founder of J Banks Design group. They have two beautiful and accomplished daughters, Sarah, 16, and Grace, 14. They are a devoted family and support each other in everything they do. Their passion is to make a difference in the world.
The idea came about came in 2005, when Greg Kronz, the rector at St. Luke’s Church on Hilton Head, hosted a mission trip to Tanzania.
One year later, Rick went on his first of many church-sponsored mission trips to Tanzania, which culminated into the creation of the Valentine Project. The project - with the partnership and guidance of Valentine Mokiwa, the archbishop of the Diocese of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania - is an orphanage that will initially serve 20 children, ages 3 to 6.
After Rick’s second trip in 2007, Archbishop Mokiwa came to Hilton Head and stayed with the Vanderslices. During his visit, he persuaded Joni to travel to Tanzania and meet with the country’s women to help them channel their creative skills into business venture, with the support of the community, Susan Ketchum, a Palmetto Bluff resident and longtime advocate of children’s causes, also traveled to Tanzania with the Vanderslices and co-founded the project. The project’s partnership includes the Angelican Church, the community of Dar es Salaam and St. Luke’s Church.
The construction of the orphanage is scheduled to be finished this month, with a planned opening this spring. Also in the works is a plan for a community poultry farm that will provide eggs and chicken for the orphanage and generate funding for the care and support of the children.
According to Rick, the children will be placed in small family like homes. There will be two groups of 10 children each with a “mama,” a Tanzanian Anglican nun. There is a word in Swahili that permeates the Tanzanian culture: ujamaa. Loosely translated it means family—to be united with fellow countrymen as one extended family. The goal is to provide a safe, family like environment for each child, and to raise a new generation of Africans who can create businesses, jobs, opportunities and peace. The local churches, communities and businesses will provide the care and support.
The Valentine Project Well Global Grant is being spearheaded by the VanLandingham Rotary Club of Hilton Head, along with financial contributions from four other area Rotary Clubs, Rotary District 7770 and Ally Abdullah Rotary Club of Bahari (Dar es Salaam). Water Missions International is constructing the well, which will provide sustainable safe water to the children of the orphanage and to members of the surrounding community.
Rick and Joni recall their initial involvement and inspiration:
Rick: “I went to Tanzania in 2006 on a medical mission with some fellow parishioners. It was a transformational experience for me. I went back the next year to the same small fishing village to do more work. This second trip allowed me to spend more time and discuss parish issues with Archbishop Valentine Mokiwa. The list of things that could make life better for our friends there is rather long. However, the need to help orphans seemed to stand out. I told him that I would do what I could. Upon my return home, the daily grind resumed and life went on. The idea of the orphanage stayed in my thoughts as I pondered the quixotic task at hand. It started with encouragement from my wife and clergy. It led to discussions with friends and acquaintances, all who responded enthusiastically. We then formed a board of people determined to take this idea as far as we could. Soon 20 kids will be living in a safe, loving environment. It has been a long journey to reach this point. The list of challenges has proven formidable. The generosity of our donors has been a wonderful thing and the guidance of our friends at The Global Orphan Project a tremendous blessing. We are delighted to be where we are. We have a long way to go. With God’s help, we will one day have several hundred kids receiving the food, clothing, shelter and education that every kid deserves. I can’t wait to visit them. I hope I’ll see you there someday.”
Joni: “Rick started this interest in Africa with his trips using his medical gifts. While I was supportive of him, I did not have an interest in going on the trips. As an interior designer, I didn’t feel that my gifts were applicable. The Archbishop kept encouraging me to take a trip to see the opportunities and work in Dar es Salaam. I agreed to go due to Rick’s promise (bribe) to take me on safari. The children, the orphans and the need has changed my heart forever. On this trip, the idea of the Valentine Project was born and my heart was changed forever. It is my hope that others will go and experience the joy of the children, the sense of purpose, all of the sights, sounds, smells and colors of Africa, allowing their hearts and viewpoints to be forever changed.”
You are cordially invited to open your hearts and feel the joy of making a difference in others’ lives. There are many opportunities to serve.
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