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Local woman meets VP, his wife

Program aims to help mothers with HIV/AIDS
By: Bridget Jones, Journal staff writer
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An organization founded in Auburn got a high-profile visit this month. Vickie Winkler, an Auburn resident currently living in Kenya, heard at the end of May she was getting a visit from Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s wife. Winkler is the founder and executive director of HEART, Health Education Africa Resource Team, which started in 2000 in Auburn. She spends part of her time in Auburn and part of her time in Kenya working with the organization. HEART works to assist the people of Kenya in stopping the HIV/AIDS epidemic. HEART’s Women Equality Empowerment Project, or WEEP, provides medical care, nutrition, vitamins and shelter to women diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. It also gives women work experience in a specific trade at a project center. This project operates in the hopes of keeping mothers alive and working, sparing children from becoming orphans, according to the HEART website. The empowerment project, which started in 2005, currently has centers in eight locations in Kenya. Biden was scheduled to visit the site in Kibera. The visit was arranged through the United States Agency for International Development and Capable Partners Kenya, Winkler said. “Some of HEART’s projects are partially funded by USAID and they were asked by the White House to take Dr. Biden to two of their funded projects,” she said. “Dr. Jill wanted to see a ‘women’s empowerment project,’ and USAID said that is why they chose us.” Winkler said it was a great feeling to find out Biden would be visiting her organization. “(I was) excited and honored to be thought of by USAID to be chosen,” Winkler said. Biden visited the Kibera center June 8 along with her stepson, Robert Hunter, daughter Ashley and granddaughter Maisy. Winkler said Biden was down-to-earth and wanted as much interaction with the site’s women and children as possible. “She hugged each woman and spoke to them gently,” Winkler said. “I whispered to her how proud I was of her, as she truly showed love and kindness. The women later said, ‘She hugged us and was not afraid of our disease.’” Winkler said one of the greatest moments she had came with her interaction with Ashley Biden. “We all loved her daughter Ashley,” she said. “The ladies sang and danced for her as she left. Ashley jumped right in with them, and danced, and laughed and became one with them. I told Ashley, ‘You should come back and work with me,’ and she said, ‘I want to.’ I said, ‘I am serious,’ and she said, ‘So am I.’” The following day Winkler and other representatives of HEART took some items made by the women in the Kibera empowerment project to the local Intercontinental Hotel, where Joe Biden was speaking. Winkler said she would always remember meeting the vice president, who told her what a positive impact she had had on his family. Bev Brown, of the Colorado HEART office, said the empowerment project is a win-win situation, because it provides mothers who couldn’t work previously because of their disease, with a way to make money for their families. Brown said the visit from the Biden family would probably be greatly beneficial to the future of the women and children of the project. “Who knows what the benefit to the widows and the (children) there might be?” Brown said. “I did e-mail (Winkler’s) note (about the visit) to the Rotary I go to here, and the people who responded were just overwhelmed.” Winkler said HEART already has big plans for a future project with Lift up Africa that will provide Israeli-made green houses for three districts in Kenya. “They have the funds to purchase the green houses, and we have the infrastructure of working in 10 districts with local leaders to have a successful project,” Winkler said. “Last year during a drought in Kenya we raised over $50,000 to feed the orphans in our project, and this will be a food security project that will provide sustainable farms.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com --------------------------------------------------- HEART What: Health Education Africa Resource Team, an organization assisting Kenyans in surviving HIV/AIDS Website: africaheart.com E-mail: info@africaheart.com Call: Gloria Martinez, (530) 885-9600