Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Unending Devotion Woman Spends Retirement Helping Children at African Orphanage, School She Founded

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Unending Devotion Woman Spends Retirement Helping Children at African Orphanage, School She Founded

Article excerpt

PHILADELPHIA - By most standards, Arlene Brown says, she's an "old lady" well past her contributing prime.

The reality, she believes, is that her true value began in retirement.

At the orphanage and school known as Urukundo Village that Ms. Brown opened on 10 mountainside acres in Rwanda in 2006, the Pennsylvania native is loved as "Mama Arlene." Now 84, she has devoted her retirement years not to cruising and golfing, but to giving a home and hope to some of Africa's neediest children.

Ms. Brown is so beloved by her charges, she had to throw a party to console them before she left Rwanda April 1 for a two-month fundraising trip home, her first visit to the United States in two years.

"Urukundo is very precious to my heart," Ms. Brown told an audience of 28 that turned out on a Saturday morning last month in State College to hear her story and watch her PowerPoint presentation. "I have a very difficult time leaving my children."

She was speaking, in that instance, of Urukundo's 54 children, ages 8 months to 21 years. But no easier was leaving her other family - her five children, 17 grandchildren and 17 great- grandchildren - in 2004 to live the rest of her life more than 7,000 miles away to care and advocate for those she said are far more vulnerable. The children of Urukundo have come from a variety of heart-wrenching circumstances, including abandonment, abuse and malnourishment.

"I'm very much at peace with it," Ms. Brown said of her move and the events she has missed as a result, including her mother's death. "I have a purpose."

"If you stop moving, if you stop using your brain, then you start dying," she told a rap audience in State College. "I haven't started dying yet. I don't have time. I have too much to do."

At Urukundo, children rush to her, wearing deep smiles and delivering lingering hugs, as she leads visitors on a tour of the facilities: the vegetable crops and animal farm; the boys' and girls' dorms; the preschool-to-third-grade classrooms; the construction on fourth-grade classrooms; the dental clinic, library, arts center and recently added Baby and Mama Love House, where women can give birth and bond with their newborns. …

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