Courtney Bosca found her mission in life at an orphanage in Honduras.
“After 48 hours, I burst into tears,” said Bosca, 53, of Gahanna. “I thought, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing.'”
The orphanage is called Montana de Luz (Mountain of Light). It shelters about 30 children and teenagers who are HIV-positive, the condition that can lead to AIDS and carries a stigma in Honduras, a poor country in central America.
Bosca, a mother of two who loves to travel and volunteer, went to Montana de Luz for the first time in 2012 and returned with an idea: Show the orphanage kids, most of whom were born to HIV-positive mothers, that they have a future by connecting them with HIV-positive Americans.
In 2015, she helped found Youth Across Borders to do just that.
Once a year, the nonprofit organization (youthacrossborders.org) pays for a small group of HIV-positive teens and adults to travel to Honduras. The resulting connections have been fruitful.
Avery Owens, a 31-year-old Cleveland resident, went for the first time in 2016, where he met a 17-year-old who had resolved to stop taking the anti—retroviral drugs that control HIV. The teen was tired of the side-effects and pessimistic about his future.
“I wasn’t too surprised,” said Owens. “They were taking second-generation medications. Medications we had years ago.”
Owens, who works for a mentoring organization, was able to assure the youth that better drugs were available and point to himself as evidence that it’s possible to live a fulfilling life with HIV.
They made a pact to support each other. The youth has since received more-updated medications, moved to transitional housing to prepare him for independence and found a girlfriend.
“It was a remarkable experience,” Owens said of the relationship he formed with the young man. “I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
The orphanage, run by a non-profit organization based in Worthington, was started in 2000 as a hospice by a central Ohio pastor. As HIV drugs improved, its mission shifted to providing long-term shelter and support to the orphans, said Morgan Brown, executive director.
Bosca plans to increase her Youth Across Borders trips to two a year now that her sons, 21 and 18, are grown. She regularly chats by computer with the orphanage children, who eagerly await the yearly arrival of the visitors from the United States.
Some of the older children have started making presentations in Honduras about how to avoid contracting HIV and where to get tested for it. Youth Across Borders has helped them develop the confidence to do that, Bosca said.
“The kids can see that there is life now. They can live and do big things and follow their dream.”
Joe Blundo is a Dispatch columnist