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Stokes: 'We expand their village to include the entire world'

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CNN Hero: Amy Stokes
  • CNN Hero Amy Stokes founded a non-profit to help children orphaned by AIDS
  • She says the kids are resilient but just lack the equipment they need to succeed
  • Mentors from around the world make sure the kids are never truly alone

(CNN) -- CNN Hero Amy Stokes uses the internet to connect South African teens affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty with volunteer mentors from around the world.

Stokes is the founder of Infinite Family and spoke with CNN about the importance of her group's efforts in South Africa -- where nearly two million children have been orphaned by AIDS.

Below are excerpts from that interview.

CNN: How does HIV/AIDS affect a South African child?

Amy Stokes: They will talk about being very happy as children and growing up with two parents until they were grade school level. And then they'll lose one of their parents. They will move where they can be in a community that helps support them and then they'll lose the other parent. Then they're moved into a home where it's an auntie running the house -- and they'll lose that aunt.

And then they go to live with the gogo -- or a grandmother -- and before long, they're living with 10 other children in the same 20 square foot space. That gogo is spending all of her time just trying to feed everybody, much less being able to help them prepare for their future.

CNN: How widespread is the problem?

Stokes: Many of these communities have lost up to 40 percent of the young adults [from HIV/AIDS]. So the children ... don't learn the survival skills that they would have learned tagging along with an adult -- watching an adult as they work, or do grocery shopping, or cooking or any of the life skills that they need.

These children are losing, not only love and nurturing, but ... the education of having a parent attend to them.

CNN: What's the biggest challenge these kids face?

Stokes: They lack access to everything that would teach them what is needed to be successful. There's no technology; there are no computers. The kids walk into our computer labs having never touched a mouse or a keyboard before.

However, they are the most hopeful children you will ever meet. They are resilient, resourceful; they are joyful; they are very ambitious.

CNN: What change do you see in them as they interact with their mentors?

If you reach out to them they will grab that lifeline and work so hard to make your investment of time and talent worth your while. They know that they are in a situation they would like to change -- their lot in life, their future -- but they struggle very hard until someone helps show them the way.

What Infinite Family does is we expand their village to include the entire world. When they get connected with their mentors, the mentors make sure that no one is ever truly alone.

Want to get involved? Check out the Infinite Family website at and see how to help.