While most high school seniors are saving up for a new prom dress or a car , Chelsea Chilman is thinking about how to return to South Africa to continue her humanitarian efforts to help the orphaned , poor , malnourished and sick .
For the past two years , she - along with a group of students called “ Save the African Kids ” from Valley Christian High School – have raised money to help orphans and the poor of Phokeng , a remote town in South Africa .
“ It ’ s hard ,” Chilman , 17 , says . “ Once you ’ ve been there , you want to go back .”
During her first 10-day trip in February 2010 , as a junior at Valley Christian High School in San Jose , Chilman said it was startling to see the disparity in a country where a squatters ’ camp borders a Mercedes car dealership .
She said she and her classmates handed out food and water to people , many of whom were HIV-infected . They also visited Martha ’ s Orphanage , a home for more than 100 children ages 5 to 14 , which they helped furnish with new appliances , furniture and paint . They also gave the children clothing , toiletries , and toys .
Returning in February of this year , Chilman said it was rewarding to see that the orphanage had continued to improve with their help and a new sponsor . It was now equipped with new tables and bunk beds for the children . Chilman and her classmates also visited Agnes ’ Orphanage which consists of little more than a dirt lot providing one meal a day and a safe place for children ages 3 to middle-school age . Chilman remembers meeting four
girls under the age of 5 whose parents had died . The children walked seven miles there every day . Chilman said she and her classmates are planning a banquet to raise money to build an orphanage at that site .
In February , Chilman also returned to the squatters ’ camp , where they once again handed out food . She said it was particularly challenging to see people in the last stages of HIV , recalling seeing a woman in a corner who was near death .
“ No one was really paying attention to her and I went up to her and I asked someone how do you say you are beautiful , and I told that to her and she cried ,” Chilman said . “ Things like that - it really shakes you up .”
The trips , said Chilman , who has lived in Gilroy since she was 4 , have helped her gain an appreciation for everything in her life .
“ You ’ re more appreciative of things . You think I have running water or a cupboard of food and some people have to walk miles for water . It changes your perspective ,” Chilman said .
Chilman said she has always been involved in helping others , recalling when she was little hosting a canned food drive for a local mobile home park .
Through bake sales and letters to family and friends , Chilman has raised $ 2,000 to buy clothes , food and other necessities for the orphans in Africa . She remembers giving away countless toys to the children and teaching them how to brush their teeth .