Humboldt natives to teach orphans
in Africa

The Times-Standard
Created: 09/01/2012 02:25:12 AM PDT

Mandi (Bartleson) Bottoms, a 2001 graduate of Fortuna Union High School, will travel to the Kingdom of Swaziland later this year with her husband, Tom. The trip is planned as a partnership with African Leadership Partners, a nonprofit, faith-based organization. During the trip, they will use their “enthusiasm, experience and expertise in agriculture education” to teach children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Bottoms' interest in agriculture and faith was sparked during her school years in Fortuna. An active member of the Fortuna FFA Chapter, she served as the North Coast Region president from 2000 to 2001. It was through working for the National FFA Organization that Bottoms met her husband. The couple will volunteer at New Life Homes, a permanent home for orphaned Swazi children. Children are placed in a family setting, which includes eight to 10 children and a housemother. Currently there are four homes and 35 children living on a 200-acre working farm.

A fundraising barbecue to support the couple's volunteer efforts will be held Sept. 8 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church, 2132 Smith Lane in Fortuna. The event will feature live music and a silent auction including authentic Swazi handicrafts and goods from local merchants. Tickets may be purchased at Christ Lutheran Church; Hydesville Community Church, 3296 State Route 36; Horizon Business Services, 1044 Main St. in Fortuna; or at J H & Co., 557 Ninth St. in Fortuna. A limited number of tickets will be available for purchase at the event. Proceeds up to $750 will be matched by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

According to the World Health Organization, Swaziland has the highest AIDS rate in the world and the number of orphaned children exceeds 70,000, approximately a fifth of the country's population. While previously serving in Swaziland, the couple welcomed a little boy named Donald to the farm. Donald came to New Life Homes after being abused by an uncle. Despite being 7 years old, Donald had never received any schooling and was lagging developmentally. During the first few months of living “on the farm,” Donald had transformed. He became known for his spontaneous hugs as he finally experienced the love and stability provided by the caregivers at New Life Homes.

Since serving in a short-term capacity in 2007, the couple has hoped to return for a longer commitment. “We feel called to serve in a capacity where our skills can be used as an asset to serve the local community,” Bottoms said. “This is a country in a very desperate situation. With our backgrounds in agriculture and education, we can really use our gifts to bless others, like Donald, who have suffered so much in their short lives.”

Reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations show that Swaziland's agriculture productivity has declined steadily for the past decade. Tom, currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis, will use his experience in the field of agriculture to act as an extension educator to help improve farming practices. Mandi, who attained a bachelor of science degree in agriculture and a teaching credential from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, will teach second- and third-grade students at the recently established New Life Homes School. The school's pupils include orphans from New Life Homes, as well as children from the surrounding rural community.

The couple will leave in December. They regularly update their blog “Swazi Sent” with stories of the children living “on the farm” and reflections on Swazi life. To follow these adventures or to make an electronic contribution, visit

African Leadership Partners is a U.S.-based, nonprofit Christian organization responding to the current HIV/AIDS crisis in the country of Swaziland. The organization's mission is to make a significant and sustainable contribution to the lives of the most vulnerable children, orphaned or abandoned, who live without alternatives for care.

For more information, visit

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