By Merikay McLeod

What does a church secretary do when she retires and celebrates her 68th birthday?

One such secretary—Paula Leen of Portland, Oregon—took her life savings and donations from two friends and started an orphanage in the east African country of Zimbabwe, where one in five children are AIDS orphans and 100 babies become HIV positive every day.

Paula’s Muwira Orphanage in eastern Zimbabwe, stands on 20 acres loaned to her by a local chieftan. There, amid drought-scorched hills and scrub brush, Paula has constructed five buildings, dug 12 wells, and planted 13 acres of gardens and orchards.

Since 2002, she has been feeding, clothing and educating orphans. The children, who come to her through Zimbabwe’s social services system, often arrive with nothing.

Alone, frightened and hungry, they find a home with Aunty Paula, as she is known in the region. Along with her volunteers and paid staff, Paula supplies clothing, comfortable beds and three meals a day to the youngsters, who range in age from infants to 12-year-olds. She also buys their school supplies and any medicine they may need, and shows them the care and nurturing love they so long for.

“I feel like they are my children in some ways,” Paula says. “They are helpless, so I want to help.” But Paula’s outreach has grown far beyond her original vision. With Zimbabwe in economic free-fall (the latest word is that the nation’s inflation rate is more than 231 million percent per year), Paula and her staff provide transportation for the critically ill to clinics and hospitals, provide part-time jobs for more than 80 adults, and distribute food packages to hundreds in the area who would otherwise starve.