In a recent email from VolunteerMatch (a match-making service for volunteers and people who need their help), I learned of a remarkable organization called Infinite Family, which uses the Internet to connect adults and families with parentless children in southern Africa.
In the wake of the AIDS epidemic, thousands of African children are orphaned every year, leaving the ratio of children to adults in many areas at 12:1. Infinite Family has made it easy for people to become virtual mentors to these kids, using video conferencing, email, and a secure Internet platform to span the physical distance.
The VolunteerMatch newsletter tells the store of the Benedict family from Pennsylvania, who discovered Infinite Family's Video Mentor program and now regularly connects with an orphaned teenager at a computer lab in sub-Saharan Africa. Not only does this youth get much-needed attention and guidance from the adult parents of the family, but she also enjoys camaraderie (and help with homework!) from the Benedict children. And they, of course, get the chance to learn about a very different culture and make a life-long friend.
What a fantastic way to use technology.
Think you want to be a virtual mentor? Check out the Infinite Family page on VolunteerMatch. Mentors must be 21+ years old, have a high-speed Internet connection, and be approved through an application process. Once approved, they undergo an online training program to help understand the culture, the technology, and the children.