Local volunteers help orphans with HIV/AIDS

By Gena Brookes 09/05/2013

Buds to Blossoms is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the health, well-being and development of orphans suffering from HIV and AIDS in Vietnam and Cambodia. Several times a year, the organization works on raising enough funds to send an international team of trained volunteers to orphanages to provide the children with pediatric massage therapy. On Sept.10 at Ojai’s Healing in America, Buds to Blossoms has planned a fundraising event with the goal of sending several volunteers from the Ventura County area to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, in October.  

Maritza Luz Vega of Ojai, who has worked as a professional massage therapist for more than 15 years, stated that before learning about Buds to Blossoms, she “had no intention of traveling to Vietnam for volunteer work.” After learning about the organization in February, however, she was inspired by the commitment of caring for orphans with HIV and AIDS, who often become ostracized in their communities.

“Many of these children never get to experience the warmth and comfort of a parental figure in their lives, and Buds to Blossoms’ message is to make every child feel wanted, welcomed, loved and valued,” Luz Vega said.

The organization’s founder and president, Les May, explained that “Massage therapy can boost the immune system and relieve pain and stress. These benefits are particularly important to children with HIV and AIDS.” Although the infants and children already receive treatment with medication, which help some of them recover slowly from the disease, most of the children continue to have AIDS-related medical problems. They live in orphanages where there are very few adult caregivers; and volunteer help is crucial and, at times, lifesaving for the children. In the program’s description, May explained that “Massage is of particular value to the children because its immune-system-strengthening effect may improve their compromising health.”

Patti Corbett of Goleta, who learned about Buds to Blossoms through Luz Vega, decided to cancel her retirement party planned for October, and opted to become a volunteer and prepare to travel to Vietnam. “When I found out that there are around four adult caregivers to look after 80 to 90 orphans, I really wanted to take part in helping and become a volunteer.” Corbett also stated that she, saying, “grew up with three adopted Vietnamese brothers,” so the opportunity to travel to Vietnam and help orphaned children hits close to home.

The Buds to Blossoms fundraiser at Healing in America, located at 107 W. Aliso St. in Ojai, will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept.10. The event will include a performance by award-winning musician Alan Thornhill, a presentation on “Love Found Amidst Broken Bonds,” and an introduction to family constellation work. All donations and raffle proceeds will go towards Luz Vega’s expenses to travel to a Vietnamese orphanage in October.

For more information, contact Maritza Luz Vega, 646-1577. For more information about Buds to Blossoms, or to make a donation, visit www.budstoblossoms.org.

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