'The Boys from Mozambique' Visit Boise 

Orphans and lifelong friends from Mozambique talk miracles, friendship and family

click to enlarge Kelvin Lewis (left) and Afonso Slater, both 18, have spent most of their lives together–despite harrowing circumstances that could easily have wrenched them apart.   - SAMI EDGE
  • Sami Edge
  • Kelvin Lewis (left) and Afonso Slater, both 18, have spent most of their lives together–despite harrowing circumstances that could easily have wrenched them apart.
On the surface, Afonso Slater and Kelvin Lewis are like any other 18-year-old best friends. They compare Snapchat followers, tease one another about girls and workouts, and they’re practically inseparable.

“We’re a packaged deal,” Afonso said. “If you call me, you can expect Kelvin. Don’t be surprised when he shows up, too.”

But Afonso and Kelvin have a friendship that beats the odds.

Originally from Mozambique, the two were childhood friends, orphaned at young ages and adopted by two unacquainted American families—who happened to live only a few miles apart.

On September 16, Afonso and Kelvin spoke about their lives at a fundraising dinner hosted by Boise’s Wassmuth Center for Human Rights. Their message was one of friendship, giving back and the importance of family.

“Coming from Mozambique where I actually had no one, there were many nights I felt alone,” Kelvin told Boise Weekly prior to the presentation. “Because of my family, my parents, I don’t have to feel alone anymore. I know there is someone who is always caring for me. That is something that I truly cherish.”

Kelvin can’t remember the first time he met Afonso. Their mothers were friends in Mozambique before the boys were born. Around the age of 4, both lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. Kelvin relied on aunts and uncles, moving houses every few nights because nobody could afford to keep him for longer. To survive, Afonso and his siblings roasted peanuts and sold them in little baggies. Before long, the boys met again—as wards at a local orphanage.

Then came adoption. Between the two of them, Afonso and Kelvin spent 12 years navigating the process. Kelvin’s adoptive parents, John and LaCinda Lewis, searched for years to find a judge who would sign Kelvin’s adoption papers. Local government officials were concerned about child trafficking, Kelvin said. After five visits to Mozambique, LaCinda brought Kelvin home to Gilbert, Ariz., in 2008.

When Afonso made it to the United States, he wasn’t an adoptee. In 2007 his adoptive mother, Sharon Slater, was named Arizona Mother of the Year by American Mothers Inc. and held a talk on AIDS orphans. Afonso and two of his siblings were given two-week visas to attend the talk.

“That’s when the miracles started ramping up,” Afonso said. 

First, on the day they were supposed to go back to Mozambique, there was a flood and their return was delayed. Next, Afonso and his siblings were diagnosed with inactive Tuberculosis, which they had been exposed to when staying with an older brother. They had to be on medication for almost a year. Again, their return trip to Mozambique was delayed. Eventually, the Slaters found a way to place the three children in the U.S. foster system and became their foster parents. Their adoption was finalized seven years later.

“[Afonso is] someone who truly understands me. Who has gone with me through every step of the way.”
 
Afonso and Kelvin’s families, who met during the tenuous adoption process, enrolled the boys in the same Gilbert schools. Since fifth grade, they’ve been at each other’s sides through school, English classes and soccer games. The pair have developed similar friendly and outgoing personalities—and they play off each other’s quirks.

Afonso said his parents wish he would study harder, like Kelvin. Kelvin says Afonso is addicted to adrenaline-inducing outdoor sports, including mountain biking, dirt biking and “anything that you could get hurt” doing. Afonso reads historical books. Kelvin is drawn to the self-improvement section at the library.

“[Self-help books] are interesting,” Kelvin said. “I came across Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and thought, ‘Huh, that’s an interesting title, I want to know how.’”

“I don’t have to read those books, it just happens naturally,” Afonso quipped back, flashing a wide grin.

All teasing aside, the boys recognize how lucky they are to be together.

“[Afonso is] someone who truly understands me. Who has gone with me through every step of the way,” Kelvin said. “We’re about to go on a different path through our lives, but I know he’ll still be there for me. I’m so grateful for him.”

Kelvin started his first day of school as a neuroscience major at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah two weeks ago. Afonso also got accepted to BYU, but has decided to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints first. While he awaits his assignment, Afonso is moving to Provo, and will live only a few blocks from his childhood best friend.

At some point, both youth intend to return to Mozambique. Afonso wants to help orphans like himself, most of whom never get adopted. Kelvin plans to become a surgeon and hopes to volunteer his services in understaffed hospitals and clinics in Mozambique.
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