Cynthia Prime: An Adventist businesswoman with a heart for HIV/AIDS orphans in Swaziland

Energetic and fun-loving, Cynthia Prime is a visionary with a reach for the new and the challenging. She is as much at ease with the rich and glamorous as she is hugging AIDS orphans. Born in Trinidad, Cynthia dreamed of becoming a physician, caring for the sick in some remote, forgotten part of the world. After graduating from high school, she moved to New York to begin a nursing program on a track toward becoming a doctor. But her dream ended quickly when she couldn’t stomach the sight of blood and identified too intensely with patients’ pain.

Instead, Cynthia completed an undergraduate degree in English and a graduate degree in radio and TV. Over the years, she worked for a community newspaper, as a reporter, in public relations, and as an executive career-management consultant.

After she married Philip Prime, a chemist, the couple moved to Indianapolis and raised three children – one daughter and two adopted high-risk teen sons. Active in her home church, Cynthia found her joy in youth outreach and in women’s ministry and lent her voice for the voiceless. For nearly 10 years, she presented seminars empowering battered women and teen girls and hosted conferences addressing domestic violence. She founded one of the first shelters for battered Adventist women in the Lake Union Conference.

After several years of a successful career as a management consultant, Cynthia, with her husband, founded a fragrance company whose products are featured by renowned retailers such as New York’s Bergdorf Goodman and London’s Harrods.

More recently, Cynthia’s passion for the less fortunate has taken her to Africa to work among HIV/AIDS orphans. Together with Linda Schultz, her ministry partner, Cynthia is directing Seeds of Hope Outreach, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sowing hope, growing dreams and changing the future of orphans and vulnerable children and women.

Did you ever wonder why your childhood dream was so different from your professional journey?

I believe God created us dreamers. He prepares us as He leads us along a dream path step, by step until one day the bigger purpose for our existence unfolds and we recognize not only why we are here but also why we traveled the path we did to get there. He has a place for every gift and ability, and, given the opportunity, He will point us to it.

What did you learn in the fragrance business, and how did you minister to people there?

I’ve always loved fragrance. The olfactory sense is as important as the others, but greatly underestimated. While in that business, there were opportunities to meet people we ordinarily don’t meet and let them see Christ in our lives. I have a dream of seeing that industry used to inspire and empower. I’d like to see it create jobs in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where sex has become transactional because people have run out of options.

How did you go from prestigious fragrance to poverty-stricken AIDS orphans?

My ah-ha moment came three years ago. I was invited to be a camp meeting speaker in Swaziland, in southern Africa, with one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world. Out of a population of one million, there are 120,000 orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).

Even before my visit, what I learned touched a sensitive chord in me, and it seemed that my childhood dream was about to be realized but in a different way. I felt called to heal hearts rather than bodies. The first time a wave of 1,000 orphans stood before me, I knew that my life would never be the same again. I gave up the security of my job and dived in head first. I learned the meaning of walking by faith, and God has shown up repeatedly to demonstrate His power. The work moves forward on the wings of prayer alone. You don’t do what you do to be thanked or appreciated. You do it because there are no other options.

Seeds of Hope Outreach (SOHO) was born out of a speaking invitation?

Yes, as I planned to go to Swaziland, the ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) office there asked me to help with clothing for several thousand children. And food for one thousand, since I told them that if the orphans did not eat, neither would I. Wow! I was overwhelmed. Danny Shelton at 3ABN (Three Angels Broadcasting Network) saw me staggering under the immensity of the need and asked a question that I never forgot: “Whose work is this, Cynthia?” Danny was one of the first donors to help start this ministry, and the donations from those first broadcast interviews are what kept the work growing the first year.

You feel called to heal hearts. How are you doing that?

One thing orphans learn early in life is that they are not welcome. There is a stigma associated with their condition that makes pain and rejection a daily reality. They suffer a lack of basic necessities like food, safe shelter, and clothing, and are easy prey to abuse.

SOHO Welcome Places are multi-purpose centers where children are fed, spiritually nurtured, and schooled, and where life skills necessary to their survival in society are taught. We foster entrepreneurship through various vocational skills training programs, such as sewing, woodwork, welding, weaving, and farming.

In spite of the limitations of a small NGO, you have formed a strong network. Tell us about some of your partners.

The Agriculture and Engineering Departments at Purdue University in Indiana have partnered, as well as the Psychology Department at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. Recently, eight doctoral students and their professor went to Swaziland and did Train-the-Trainer in crisis and suicide prevention. Some public schools are also involved.

Andrews University in Michigan has just become a partner in a 27-hectare farm that will generate food for OVCs and provide support for God’s work in Swaziland, where the income levels have dropped, as so many employees have died because of AIDS. SOHO is also collaborating with Swaziland’s AMICAALL (the Alliance?of Mayors’ Initiatives for Community Action on AIDS at the Local Level) to develop a prevention program for HIV/AIDS.

We hear so much about AIDS victims. How can we avoid becoming callous to their needs?

To begin with, we need to recognize that AIDS sufferers are not just statistics; they are people. Children, young people, who otherwise would be full of promise. Each child is the face of Christ before us. We each must use what He has given us to do the best we can. Once that commitment takes over, how can we become callous?

If readers are interested in helping, how can they get involved with SOHO?

Volunteering is a good start. We need musicians, teachers, medical personnel, sports and fitness pros, etc. Students can be advocates on their campuses by raising awareness and generating support. We don’t want just donations, as badly as they are needed to keep SOHO programs going. We need people to become a voice for those who have none. Get on our Web site or give us a call at www.seedsofhopeoutreach.org.

What are your next steps?

We have begun a special program for households headed by children, pre-teen to 17. PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) has indicated an interest in doing a documentary. This is a long way, but at the end of it, God will ask us all for the lambs who are without protection and provision because of AIDS. I pray that there will be many to present to Jesus.

I’m also planning to publish a book to encourage people (women especially) to push the limits and venture for God. Changing the world is not the job of celebrities but of ordinary people through whom God wants to do extraordinary work.

Heide Ford (M.A. Andrews Univeristy, Michigan, U.S.A.) is director of the Women’s Resource Center at La Sierra University in Riverside, California. WRC’s mission is professional and leadership development of women and advocacy for gender justice in the Seventh-day Adventist Church (http://www.AdventistWomensCenter.org). Her e-mail: hford@lasierra.edu.

Cynthia Prime’s e-mail address: cprime2000@aol.com.

SOHO Web site: www.seedsofhopeoutreach.org.