Open Arms for Children

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After taking a family mission trip to South Africa in 2005, Bob and Sallie Solis of Phoenix felt called to do something about the plight of children orphaned by AIDS in the country. They used their life savings and bought a 70-acre hilltop farm and established the Open Arms Home. Today, the home houses over 50 orphans. Bob Solis will talk about the Open Arms Home.

Ted Simons: Most of have us busy lives and it can be hard to find time to get our normal chores done. Tonight meet a Phoenix man who not only works a full-time job but found time to establish the open arms home, now home to over 50 children, victims of aids in Africa. It's good to have you here. Thank you for joining us.

Bob Solis: Great to be here.

Ted Simons: Congratulations on uh -- give us a better definition of open arms home.

Bob Solis: It's a residential facility, Ted, for children who have lost their parents to aids in South Africa, which is a particularly bad problem. So most of these children come to us with the shirts on their back and ends up we'll raise them to adulthood. It's a residential home.

Ted Simons: You're based here. Work here. How did this start?

Bob Solis: My wife and I have five children of our own. About ten years ago we took our family on a mission trip of our own. We worked in an orphanage in South Africa. We wanted our kids to see how the other half of the world lived. We saw so many children in need from this aids problem that we came home, thought and prayed about it, we had been saving up to pay off our house for many years. We said, what the heck, that's why they invented 30-year mortgages. We bought a farm.

Ted Simons: When you went on the trip what did you expect to see? Was there a moment when everything went this is what we should be thinking about?

Bob Solis: Yes. It was when we went out to the community what they call townships or we call slums. You saw so many children just wandering around. You would ask, what is this child's story? A next door neighbor would be taking care of the child. They weren't related. You just saw this over and over. Tugged on our hearts. We're very blessed to be a part of it.

Ted Simons: What kind of response did you get from folks in the community? The kids obviously are having a great time. They look like they are doing pretty doggone well. What about the folks in the community.

Bob Solis: We were welcomed with open arms, pardon the pun. There's such a need for children's homes there, so overwhelming that people stepped up. Lovely farmers gave us meat and dairy, people knitted sweaters.

Ted Simons: Kind to you locally. What about here? What about your family, your friends? It's one thing to say I'm going to take a motorcycle trip or have a mid-life crisis -- I'm going to open a home for orphan kids in South Africa.

Bob Solis: Well, psychological counseling was one suggestion, but we have a very supportive family. So and a big extended family in Arizona. They were all very supportive although probably scratching their heads a little bit. We started small, got the first child in 2006. We have been adding 10 to 12 children a year ever since.

Ted Simons: As far as challenges, maybe you didn't expect --

Bob Solis: The distance is the number one challenge. When you're trying to run an organization on the other side of the world and you're living in Arizona that becomes very problematic. We have American executive directors, a couple from Virginia that runs it for us this. They're doing a great job. So we do the best we can to stay in touch but the distance is probably the hardest thing. Probably the most unexpected blessing of the thing has been giving people jobs. The unemployment rate around there is about 50%. We have 43 paid staff members at this point. So it's been great giving them jobs.

Ted Simons: When we saw the kids they were having fun playing, dancing, just being kids, but I know there has to be some emotional need going on there, physical needs. What have you run into?

Bob Solis: No question. We have a master's level play therapist that comes every Thursday and Friday to work through some of the issues. Obviously our children have issues with separation. With wondering where their family is, et cetera. So we work through those issues as best we can. Then we have a couple children themselves that are HIV positive. So we have to attend to their needs. But they are doing great. They're on medication doing super.

Ted Simons: The first kid was when?

Bob Solis: 2006.

Ted Simons: Is that child still in the home?

Bob Solis: He still is.

Ted Simons: How is he seeing the world?

Bob Solis: His name is Safundo. His local language that means a lesson. He has taught us lessons about resiliency and how to keep moving forward in your life. All of our kids are so resilient it's pretty inspirational to know them.

Ted Simons: How big a problem is aids in Africa in general and South Africa in particular?

Bob Solis: It's a big problem in sub-saharan Africa. Some countries are further ahead in the fight than others. South Africa was one of the last countries to join the fight. So as a result 18 to 20% of the adult population is HIV positive in a country of 5 million people you can imagine the toll that takes. So because most of the people passing away are 20 to 40 years old, they have a lot of Kentucky and lots of Kentucky with no place to go.

Ted Simons: They do now. Expansion plans? What's going on?

Bob Solis: We have beds right now for 70, with 53 kids, so over the next couple of years we'll get to 70. At that point we'll catch our breath and see what's going on. But we hope if we expand beyond that we build out campus because we want to maintain a family atmosphere. It's very important to us that it not get too large so it doesn't become an institution.

Ted Simons: A question for you. You work full-time.

Bob Solis: I do.

Ted Simons: Doing something else.

Bob Solis: Yes.

Ted Simons: How do you find the time for this?

Bob Solis: It's turned into my golf hobby which is fine because I'm terrible at golf. It's nights and weekend and whatever we can do, speaking at churches and rotary clubs. It's a great privilege, actually. I don't look at it as work. It's one of those things you feel like you're doing what you're supposed to be doing.

Ted Simons: Sounds like you actually walked across a major part of South Africa to raise money.

Bob Solis: Next time I'll take the bus Ted. we were out of space and out of funds on a personal basis so we had a fund-raiser where I walked 720 miles across the country. It was great adventure. We raised about a quarter million dollars to build more cottages.

Ted Simons: Last question. Do you ever sit back, I was saying you must sleep awfully well, do you ever sit back and just look at the ceiling, look outside, and just marvel or wonder at what you've done?

Bob Solis: I will tell you my favorite thing at open arms without exception is to sit inside even though I love playing with kids and watch the children playing. What happens with children who have suffered like this is they lose their childhood. They lose their sense of joy and play, because they are begging to stay alive. My favorite thing is to sit and watch them play. I think open arms has given them a great gift, which is their childhood back.

Ted Simons: That must be a blessing and a half for you and certainly for them. Continued good work and congratulations. This is a fantastic story.

Bob Solis: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good to have you.

Bob Solis:Open Arms Home, Founder

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