Southern Cross Education Foundation, a privately funded preschool and primary school support program for disadvantaged children in Botswana, is partnering with The Darien Nature Center to host a six-week exhibition of the photography and arts of Botswana.

The exhibit, which is free to the public, will kick off with an opening reception Sept. 17 from 6 to 9 p.m. (tickets $75 per person at the door) and will run through Oct. 29, 2011; Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. at The Darien Nature Center. By special permission of documentarians Dereck and Beverly Joubert, a private showing of the National Geographic film "The Last Lions" will take place Sunday, Oct. 9, at 2 p.m. ($15 at the door).

The exhibition will support the longtime dream of a Botswanan woman, Tiny Hiri, to help educate orphaned and other vulnerable children in Botswana. The opening reception on Sept. 17, with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, will feature the silent auction of a seven-night luxury safari to Botswana and will be attended by Hiri and representatives from the Botswana Embassy to the United States. All proceeds will go toward building preschools for orphaned and vulnerable children in Botswana.

"The focus of Southern Cross to create innovative, community-based early childhood education programs is closely aligned to the mission of The Nature Center. We are incredibly excited to offer this exhibition on Botswana to the Darien community," said Lynn Hamlen, director of The Darien Nature Center.

On display and for sale at the exhibition will be a signature collection of African wildlife photos by renowned photographer Dave Hamman, as well as handmade crafts from the local tribes of Botswana. Also to be launched is "Botskini," a line of children's and adult's clothing, celebrating the fabric art of Africa. As part of Southern Cross' community outreach programs, the mothers and caregivers of the children will eventually make the clothing.

Darien resident Andrea Jackson is the creative director of Botskini. Jackson became involved with Southern Cross and has designed the Botskini line as a way to engage her two young daughters and help give them a more global view of the world.

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"The girls have developed an awareness for the challenges of children less fortunate than themselves," she said. "The ability to help turn Tiny's dream into a reality is what inspired me to get involved. I'd like to play a part in helping these children have better lives. Botskini will be a business that can provide an income for the school going forward for years to come. If we can help some of the caregivers by developing skills, then it's an added bonus that can only help the community as a whole."

Botswana is a democratic country in southern Africa, which has made tremendous strides in developing its educational system. Yet it suffers many challenges. It has the second highest HIV/Aids prevalence rate in Africa at 24 percent, and 93,000 children have lost one or both parents to the epidemic.

What originally began as a dream by Hiri has, in the past two years, become a reality.

Hiri grew up in the town of Ghanzi, Botswana. She attended the local government run primary school and now works at Chitabe Safari Camp. She dropped out of secondary school to have and care for her son and during this time she educated herself and obtained a job in housekeeping at a safari camp. For 10 years, she worked her way up in the organization until she was running the front of the house at camp. At the same time, Hiri was supporting her family back at home. But then she went a step further: she adopted four orphan children destined for the street, with many personal sacrifices. Her dream to help more children in her community by building a school for street children still spurred her on.

In 2009, after hearing Hiri's dream of wanting to help orphans in her community, Michelle Adelman, a New York-based businesswoman, established the Southern Cross Education Foundation. Through its research, the foundation discovered that less than 16 percent of children across Botswana have access to preschool, and today more than 50 children are on the street of the small town of Ghanzi, many addicted to alcohol and sniffing glue. Despite making education a national priority, up to 30 pwercent of the children in Botswana's poorest districts are not in primary school. In Ghanzi, more than 12 percent drop out in the first grade, even as young as seven years of age.

In June 2010, the Botswana government granted 13 acres of land to the Foundation to build its first school in Ghanzi, called Bana Ba Motlhaba or "Children of the Desert."

"In collaboration with the Botswana government, we've found a way to enhance their investments in education and make a difference for these at-risk children," Adelman said.

The Foundation continues to work toward the goal of making Hiri's dream become a reality through fundraising and donations. All proceeds from this event benefit the Southern Cross Education Foundation. It is a 501(c)3 tax-

deductible organization.

Those with questions are encouraged to contact Casey Korinchock at 646-282-1919 or email southerncrossschool@gmail.com.