“I played with really little kids the first trip and I remember thinking, ‘They’re never going to remember me’ and those same little boys that I had played with the year before ran straight up to me,” said Benefield, a junior at the University of Georgia who is pursuing a child and family development degree. “It made me feel like I had a responsibility to those kids. They trusted us and they trusted me to come back and take care of them. It made me feel like their sister or their mom.
“First of all, [participating in these mission trips] made me thankful for the opportunities we have here and, second of all, it made me just see that those were my brothers and sisters and even though we don’t see them every day — it’s not right in our face — they’re there. And there’s such a need. ... [I know] I’m called to care for them and my passion is to show others that passion so that they’ll care for them. So my main thing that I always want to tell people is there’s 147 million orphans in the world and they can totally be [helped]. It’s not an unsolvable problem. There’s so many people in the world to take care [of them] and adopt — adoption is really big to me. And that’s different for everyone. Some people are called to go overseas and adopt and some people are called to adopt here.”
To help the children assisted by Orphan Aid, Liberia’s efforts, Benefield is organizing a fundraiser titled “Dance for Their Chance” Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. Along with distributing information about the nonprofit, the benefit on the farm will feature dancing, live music, a bonfire and a chili cook off at 331 Kingston Highway 293 N.W. in Cartersville.
Spearheaded by Daryl Roberts, Orphan Aid, Liberia was established in 2008 through the Cartersville-based nonprofit Medical Missions Unlimited Inc. The Cartersville resident was inspired to improve the lives of orphaned children after initially meeting them on a 10-day mission trip to the village of Balama about four years ago. Many of the 19-month- to 19-year-olds were still struggling to regain a sense of normalcy after witnessing the death of their parents during the country’s civil wars that ended in 2003.
Built by Orphan Aid, Liberia in 2010, the orphanage complex — two dormitories and a school, which is situated on 10 acres of land purchased by the ministry — are a far cry from the children’s former living situation in Balama. The youths were residing in two mud houses that were open to the elements and sleeping at least three to a single bed fashioned out of wooden pallets and foam.
“We’ve gotten support from young people and older people alike all over Bartow County,” Roberts said. “The people of Bartow County have done a tremendous amount for our kids in Liberia. Haley, she’s passionate. Her heart is huge. She loves these children.
“She has a burden for orphaned children and she’s going to act on it. I think that’s just very special and unique for a young person. ... She is just very driven and she feels called to these children.”
Proceeds raised from the “Dance for Their Chance” benefit will go toward purchasing deworming medicine and funding college tuition for the orphans, Benefield said.
“Deworming is hugely important,” Roberts said. “It’s a big issue in Liberia because the worms are rampant there and as we’ve treated our kids at our orphanage, they’ve had four treatments now, we’ve seen a huge difference in their skin, in their hair. .... It just helps them physically, which affects their ability to learn. It’s a quality of life [issue] and ... it’s a relatively inexpensive fix. It’s just got to be done consistently. We believe that we can treat hundreds if not thousands of the kids in Liberia.
“Also, as far as the scholarship program, kids that reach a certain age or the children that graduate from high school, they don’t have an opportunity to go to college or university. Without a degree, there is very limited opportunities. They typically return back to the intense poverty and hunger, no jobs — [they have a] 85 percent unemployment rate. So we’re just trying to give them the opportunity to not only help themselves but to help the country and have a positive impact on the other children as well.”
Tickets for the upcoming fundraiser, which can be purchased at the door, are $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 3 and older. For more information about Orphan Aid, Liberia, visit www.orphanaidliberia.com.