Bloomingdales is no longer just a place to binge on “bling” and threads; it’s now a place to buy bling that can be life-changing.  The famous department store has added Orphan Bracelets to its glittering wares. Check out this ad.

The agreement with Bloomingdale’s came about when someone in Florida wanted to find out what “ubuntu” means. They went to Google,  landed on the Orphan Bracelet Campaign website and watched the Nelson Mandela video, in which he explains the meaning of Ubuntu. The person bought a few bracelets and gave some to colleagues.

A month later, Orphan Bracelet received an email from Bloomingdale’s with a request for 180 of the ultra stylish ornaments. Louise Hogarth, founder of the Orphan Bracelet Campaign, called “Bloomie’s” and learned that the CEO had seen an employee wearing the bracelets and wanted to order several for his managers.

After some discussion with Louise, Bloomingdale’s decided to sell them at its New York store and run an ad about it for Black History Month.  The ad appeared in the New York Times and the New York Post .

It didn’t stop there. Some “fashionistas” in New York picked up on the Bloomingdale’s buzz and blogged about it. The result? Lots of orders for the handmade bracelets that benefit women and children victimized by HIV/AIDS.  Wait until the fashionistas find out the bracelets get shinier with wear AND that you can move the rings around to change the design!

Last fall, I wrote about “Eyetopia”, a small shop in lovely downtown Leesburg, Virginia that hosted a screening of “Angels in the Dust”,  Louise Hogarth’s award-winning documentary about a committed, giving woman named Marion Cloete, who  gave up a comfortable life in Johannesburg to open a home for South Africa’s ever-expanding population of AIDS orphans.

OBC’s Monique Watkins strolled into the shop one day and ran into owner Paige Buscema.  Next thing you know, Paige was selling Orphan Bracelets in Eyetopia and had agreed to use  her shop to screen the film.

At the time I wrote about Eyetopia and the profit to be found in non-profits, I never dreamed that Bloomingdale’s would be next!  Maybe Barney’s and Neiman Marcus  will take the hint!

Join all of us wearing this stylish bracelet and showing support for the women and children who need us to buy and wear them!  Buy yours today! You DO Ubuntu when you DO!

by Vicky O’Hara, Johannesburg, SA


Non-profits like the Orphan Bracelet Campaign have to be entrepreneurial to survive. The same is true of  people in business. Put the two together and both benefit. That thought process by Orphan Bracelet’s volunteer Monique Watkins resulted in a unique event recently in the lovely town of Leesburg, Virginia: “Walk the Red Carpet for Charity”.

"Walk the Red Carpet for Charity"

Leesburg, for those of you who have not had the pleasure to visit, is a pcturesque town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It oozes tradition and small town charm. The streets are lined with old houses that have been turned into quaint shops selling everything from antiques to gifts and homemade candy.

Monique lives not far from Leesburg, so she has come to know the town. She bought the funky frames for her eye glasses in a small bungalow shop called Eyetopia, It features unusual bags, jewelry and the kind of eye glass frames you won’t find at a shopping mall optometrist.

Maggie-one of OBC's beaders with Monique Watkins

Monique with her 'Eyetopia' glasses.

The day she bought the frames from owner Paige Buscema, Monique was wearing a couple of orphan bracelets, one of the products we sell to raise money for HIVAIDS women and orphans in South Africa. Paige noticed the bracelets, which was all Monique needed to push our cause.  The shop owner agreed to sell the bracelets in her store.

At the time, Monique had been planning to screen “Angels in the Dust,” Louise Hogarth’s award-winning documentary about a woman who gave up her affluent Johannesburg lifestyle to start an orphanage in rural South Africa for children who have lost their parents to HIVAIDS. She was planning to hold the screening at the local theatre in Leesburg, but the theatre charged $500.00 to use its facility. That amount of money would have greatly reduced profits from the screening, so Monique approached Paige; they decided to hold an “outdoor screening” instead: in the lot behind her shop and use Monique’s van as the screen. Paige produced some high-thread count sheets to cover the vehicle, which was strategically placed to shield “theatre-goers” from the chilly mountain wind. Local papers did their part by covering the event and running a promo as an insert.

Paige says that once the word got out, people started coming to the store, asking about the Orphan Bracelets, even before the screening. Many bought other things as well.

The week of the event, it rained every day. Monique and Paige were hoping they didn’t have to cancel the event if the rain continued. It didn’t; the sun came out that afternoon. The night was colder than they would have wished, but it was clear. Members of the audience “walked a red carpet” as they entered the “theatre”, which was lit by candles and evening stars. Everyone was offered a gift bag, popcorn and other movie-style snacks. The audience was seated on chairs donated by a local church.

When the documentary began, the score swelled through the quiet night air,  compliments of Monique’s personal stereo and huge speakers. She says, “the setup and sound worked great.”

According to Paige and Monique, the audience was visibly moved by the story of the orphanage and the suffering inflicted on children by HIVAIDS. Many left the screening wearing a bracelet. “It will remind me of these children every day”

captive audience

The screening not only raised badly needed funds for orphans affected by HIV/AIDS crisis, it also was good publicity for Eyetopia. Personal profit was not Paige’s motivation. She says,  “I just wanted to DO something for the Orphan Bracelet Campaign.”   Due to the publicity of the event, many people in the area now know that they can go to Eyetopia to buy their bracelets.

We encourage other entrepreuners to recognize that good works can be good business.

Small businesses interested in selling the bracelets in their stores or offices can contact us at   Our bracelets also are available on our website and currently are sold at gift stores, health food stores, veterinarian offices, doctor’s offices, on college campuses, etc. etc.

The last few days have brought home in a very personal way the HIVAIDS crisis in southern Africa. We spent the weekend in Lesotho, a beautiful but impoverished little country surrounded by South Africa.

The poor of Lesotho survive on their fruit trees, small gardens and a few farm animals

The people work hard. Most homes or shacks have vegetable plots, which you don’t see a lot in poor areas of South Africa for reasons that I don’t understand. The houses, however poor, are very clean. People obviously spend what they can to improve their living conditions. The shacks gradually are replaced with one-room, concrete block structures. Over time, bricks are applied to the outside to make them look nice. Then, another room is added. People seem to take pride in their homes. Yet, Lesotho has the highest HIVAIDS rate in Africa. Poverty and lack of access to prenatal care and retroviral drugs is one reason. Another is that the country is so poor that people leave for South Africa in search of work. There, they find new partners, get infected and come home to infect their spouses in Lesotho. Many children are born HIV positive and TB is rampant.

One of the workers at the guest house where we stayed told us that his parents died of AIDS within a month of each other when he was only twelve. He then raised his two younger siblings, one of whom was only a toddler at the time. The two siblings are now in school. He works at the guest house to support them while continuing to go to high school part-time. He has been trying to get through high school for five years and has all but given up dreams of university.    The village was full of young children, many of whom had terrible coughs, either from the common cold, TB or complications of HIVAIDS. They are supposed to go to school, according to the government, until grade eight, but many don’t. Their parents don’t have the money for school fees, or the children are too hungry to concentrate in a classroom.

Foreigners in Lesotho are like the Pied Piper to local children

When we returned from Lesotho, we learned that the cousin of our housekeeper had just lost his wife, leaving him with five young children. He works as a security guard in an affluent suburb. He and the children live in a shack in the township of Alexandria. Our housekeeper says there is no food in the house and no money for a funeral. As if that weren’t bad enough, our housekeeper says her cousin also seems to be ill and in denial about what is happening. The outcome, unless there is some intervention, will be another five orphans in a country full of AIDS orphans.
We who work with the Orphan Bracelets Campaign ( will have to expand our client base, which is tragic. What is perhaps more tragic is that the HIV education campaigns in Southern Africa don’t seem to be working. People here often say, “I can’t have HIVAIDS because I am faithful to my partner.” People obviously don’t understand the nature of the illness or prevention. That leaves organizations like the Orphan Bracelet Campaign with a challenge that increases by the day. If you had seen those children in Lesotho this past weekend, you would know that we cannot give up.

Vicky O’Hara     Johannesburg

South Africa has demonstrated that it can rise to a challenge. By all accounts, the 2010 soccer World Cup was a resounding success. The venues did not collapse; transportation more or less worked; the visitors were not subjected to massive rape, robbery and pillage as some foreign newspapers had suggested would be the case for anyone foolish enough to make the trip.

So why can’t South Africa rise to its social challenges? Why is it that more than 40% of the population is unemployed? Why is it that economists keep saying South Africa is falling behind the rest of the continent in terms of education and skills development? Why is it that this country cannot get a handle on HIV/AIDS?

I’m not the only one asking these questions. Helen Zille, leader of the opposition party here, raised the same issues yesterday as the South African parliament listened to President Zuma praise the country’s stellar performance during the soccer tournament. Zille said the World Cup was a success because for once, government officials worked together, committed to delivering on time. In her analysis, all spheres of government pulled together because “every other risk paled into significance compared with the catastrophe of missing deadlines set by Fifa,” the international soccer federation.

Do-gooders always complain that hosting mega events such as the World Cup detracts attention and drains resources from social programs. I don’t subscribe to that argument. I believe that sports are important in terms of social cohesion and physical fitness and that mega events can produce economic benefits, if managed properly.

What I do not believe is that South Africans might consider the World Cup to be more important than their own health, education and welfare. Because I don’t believe that, I do NOT understand why people here do not demand more of their government. Even the poorest people in the world know that others live better. It does not take a lot of education to want more for yourself and for your children.

Every now and then, I see signs of hope that South Africa is trying to meet its social challenges. For instance, the government last year launched an ambitious program to test 15 MILLION South Africans for HIV by April, 2011. To facilitate that effort, lay counselors were taught to conduct the finger prick test for the virus to make up for the shortage of trained doctors and nurses. It sounded good.

Now, we find that the lay counselors are threatening to walk out of clinics because they haven’t been paid. Lay counselors in two provinces say they have been without a paycheck for five months! Counselors from Johannesburg and Soweto plan to march to Pretoria today to present their demands to the national health department.

It seems that the government, in its zeal to make headlines on National AIDS Day, made promises without  identifying the necessary funds. So, here we are, a year later, and the program already is falling apart. Everyone remembers the media splash when Zuma announced the program. News of the program’s shortcomings barely gets a headline.

I’ve always believed that people get the government they deserve. If government fails you, DO something about it. Yet in South Africa, no one does much about any of this. There is no national outrage, except from the NGOs and political opposition, neither of which has much clout.

South African author and acerbic social critic Rian Malan writes that for the past two decades, South Africa “has been stricken almost weekly by scandals that would have toppled governments in the West but seem almost meaningless here…When these stories break, you think they’re going to tear the country apart and alter everything forever. But they don’t. They linger for a week or two and then fade into oblivion, blown off the front pages by the next dumbfounding scandal. The ordinary laws of cause and effect don’t seem to apply here.” (excerpt from “Resident Alien”).

It’s as if this country is sleepwalking while politicians and their cronies grab all they can at the expense of the nation. Someone needs to set a very loud alarm clock.

Vicky O’Hara



August 19, 2010

The 2010 soccer World Cup in South Africa is an amazing display of national unity among the fractured South Africans. It’s a display of skill and courage by athletes, and enterprise by everyone surrounding the tournament, including the Orphan Bracelet Campaign ( The thousands of journalists and hundreds of thousands of visitors who have landed on South African soil for the World Cup represent an opportunity that we could not miss. So, our own Terry Myburgh arranged a booth at the World Cup stadium in Durban, in partnership with the South African Tuberculosis Association (aka  SANTA, a non-profit, volunteer community-based organization founded in 1947).

worldcup fan buying orphan bracelets

We handed out information about the HIV/AIDS epidemic here, answered questions, and sold the lovely bracelets made in South Africa that fund our various projects in support of AIDS orphans and HIV/AIDS-infected women. Terry says lots of local guest houses are supporting our project by supplying bracelets to their guests. Everyone who boards a plane, train or bus with one of our bracelets will help to spread the word about the scale of the epidemic and the level of human suffering in South Africa as a consequence, especially among women and children.

South Africa has done a very good job of cleaning up its “public face” for the World Cup. The government would prefer that visitors spending lavish amounts of money to enjoy high-level soccer not be confronted with the misery that is a fact of life for large numbers of people in this country. Vagrants and beggars have been rounded up and moved elsewhere. Shacks in soccer venue cities have been demolished. Police patrol streets to protect the visitors from South Africa’s reality.

But we know what is happening here…  thus we are at the World Cup… not to tarnish the games or the country, but to enlist the support of the world in fighting a disease that too many would prefer to ignore. BUY a BRACELET and tell a friend!

Vicky O’Hara

June 29, 2010


South Africans are ecstatic over the World Cup… first one ever to be played on African soil. They should be proud. There were so many skeptics who said the country could never pull it together in time to host an international extravaganza of that magnitude.

(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Well, the World Cup starts next Friday, and South Africa is in pretty good shape. The major new roads are finished (or will be, we hope), new buses are running, the fast, new train from the airport into Jo’burg becomes operational on Tuesday. The flags are up and the “vuvuzela” has become the audio signature of the World Cup, South African style.

In southern Africa, soccer players represent something that most poor children can only dream of… an escape from poverty. Very much like children in Central America, soccer is a beacon… a pathway to a better life for them and their families.

But there are so many children here who can’t even venture to dream. They are the victims of HIV/AIDS. Some are infected, but many simply have lost one or both parents to the virus. They have no hope, no future.

(Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

(Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

That is why DO Ubuntu Orphan Bracelet volunteers are GOING TO THE WORLD CUP! The world’s biggest international soccer event offers a wonderful opportunity to showcase the work that the Orphan Bracelet Campaign has undertaken in support of AIDS orphans in South Africa. Volunteers will be deployed at a booth inside the World Cup stadium in Durban. They will hand out information about the cause, sell “orphan bracelets” and generally enlist the support that is so vital to keep the campaign alive.  The Orphan Bracelet Campaign was offered to share the booth with the South African National Tuberculosis Association (aka  SANTA, a non-profit, volunteer community-based organization founded in 1947).

South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council estimates that up to three million children in this country are orphans… as a result of HIV/AIDS, TB, alcohol, drug abuse, you name it. The South African health system is ill-equipped to deal with them, especially in rural areas.

Orphan Bracelet Campaign

Wear one or more to show your support

That is where the Orphan Bracelet Campaign steps up to the plate. The program provides income to local women to make the beautiful bracelets that in turn are sold internationally, to fund  feeding programs, orphanages, and job training for HIV/AIDS infected women.

The World Cup is a celebration of physical vitally, determination, talent, heart. All of the children of Africa should have the opportunity to aspire to be soccer players OR nurses, doctors, lawyers, whatever they want to be. Give them a sporting chance. Wear your Orphan Bracelet to help spread the word and show your support!  (You can buy your Orphan Bracelet here).

Vicky O’Hara

Johannesburg, South Africa

June 6, 2010

The global campaign against HIV/AIDS offered real hope to the victims of this scourge in Southern Africa.  In the last 10 years, drugs to treat HIV/AIDS victims fell from an estimated $12,000 a year to about $100. The number of Africans who obtained drugs skyrocketed and health care workers actually became somewhat optimistic about getting a handle on the disease in the continent most affected and infected.

The global recession has eradicated that hope. Because of budgetary constraints, U.S. funding for HIV/AIDS in the developing world has flatlined. This month, AIDS activists were arrested outside a $15,000-a-head fundraiser for the Democratic Party. President Barack Obama was there, and the protesters demanded that he live up to his campaign promises to “at least double the number of HIV-positive people on treatment.”

President Obama inherited the global recession. He cannot be blamed directly for a financial crisis that has sapped the strength out of the U.S. economy and assistance funds for developing countries. But in South Africa, the results of the cutbacks are stunning.

Check out this NYT report from Uganda ( Donald McNeil reports that clinics in Uganda are turning away patients, while an American-run program in Mozambique has been told to stop opening clinics. Doctors Without Borders, he writes, tells of drug shortages in Nigeria and Swaziland.

The impact of the cutbacks is exponential, given the number of new HIV diagnoses every day in Africa.  I wonder how many HIV/AIDS victims will be further victimized by the recession.

When governments fail to help in a crisis, we as individuals need to step up to the plate. We can’t fill the  gap, but we can make a difference in the lives of some people.  Just look at the accomplishments of the Orphan Bracelet Campaign (, which sells locally made bracelets internationally to fund support programs for South African women with AIDS and AIDS orphans.

One of the projects supported by the bracelet campaign is the Molly Bam Orphanage ( near Port Alfred, here in South Africa. In my first blog, I wrote about the orphanges’ expansion needs, and ways in which Orphan Bracelet was helping to fund construction. The on-the-ground results are impressive… two more bedroooms, a bathroom and lounge, in addition to support in feeding infants and visiting children who are hospitalized.

Terry Myburgh, who works with the Orphan Bracelet Campaign (OBC) in Port Alfred, reports that another OBC project , a children’s feeding program in Nemato Township, now has a new water tank, a true blessing in an area where the water is only good enough for toilets or a salty bath.Water tank

These projects won’t save millions of lives, but they will save some.  All of us need to step up when governments can’t or won’t.


May 21, 2010



Thanks to the Orphan Bracelet Campaign, the feeding program has a new water tank!