Housemates target ‘incredible poverty’ |

Housemates target ‘incredible poverty’

Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyAngela Larkan, left, Tyler Howard and Maya Casagrande stand by goods they sell from their home in West Vail to raise money for groups in South Africa.

VAIL ” With skis by the front door, skateboards lining the walls inside and two seemingly redundant TVs sitting next to each other in the living room, this could be the home of any group of 20-somethings living in Vail.

And Angela Larkan, 23, Maya Casagrande, 23, and Tyler Howard, 24 ” the homes’ residents ” have the jobs you would expect of recent college graduates here: two work in shops on Bridge Street, and one is a ski instructor.

But then there’s the round table with a collection of open laptops. There are postcards with pictures of sad-looking African orphans. There are stacks of reports on HIV, rural South Africa and school curriculums. There are cardboard boxes with bright, African jewelry spilling out of them. There is a checklist with dozens of tasks: e-mails to send, phone calls to make, ways to advertise.

The three friends run a nonprofit called Thembanathi from the Matternhorn home. They sell jewelry to help AIDS orphans in South Africa, where about 1 in 5 adults are HIV-positive. The nonprofit helps pay for schools, food and housing for children in South Africa’s “AIDS belt.”

“There’s just incredible poverty in this area,” Larkan said.

The three friends, along with several other helpers from across the country, plan to travel to South Africa in December to start an after-school program for 400 kids. They hope it’ll teach kids about HIV prevention and give them job skills that will make them successful.

They want the after-school-program model to spread to neighboring towns and across the country.

Larkan, who lived in South African until she was 12, started studying ways to help AIDS orphans there when she was in college. She went to South Africa for a couple of months as part of her studies.

She and another student founded the nonprofit group and started helping kids in a rural area north of Durban. Many kids there have lost their parents to AIDS, and children as young as 9 or 10 are left in charge of their siblings.

The nonprofit helps fund a preschool that allows older kids to attend school instead of having to care for their younger siblings.

Howard and Casagrande joined Larkan in South Africa in 2005 to run a summer camp. Casagrande said she was struck by the resilience of the children who have lost their parents.

“I still can’t really grasp what their life is like at home,” she said.

The group also wants to teach skills like agriculture, construction, computers and film at their after-school programs. Some of the skills will help the students find jobs, and others will help them go to college, Larkan said.

At the least, the skills will give them some confidence about their future, she said.

The group also hopes they can use activities like sports to convey ways to prevent the spread of AIDS, Larkan said.

The kids get information about AIDS, but they are distrustful of its source, Howard said.

“There’s a gap between the information out there and the way it was reaching people,” he said.

Larkan and Howard plan to run the program for a few years at the most but ultimately hand it off to locals to run.

In the next few months, the three housemates are hoping they’ll get enough jewelry orders and other donations to fund the after-school program. They sell necklaces, earrings, bracelets and pins through their Web site, Women around Durban make the jewelry.

The three have been living in Vail for a little more than a year. Larkan and Howard have known each other since high school, and Howard and Casagrande went to Colorado College together.

Larkan said the mountain setting of Vail allows her to work a full-time job, and then turn around and spend 40 hours a week on her nonprofit.

The three just shrugged off the comparison between their philanthropic efforts and the lives of other young locals whose main concerns are skiing, work and partying.

“I never really think about it until people go, ‘What?'” Casagrande said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

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