Kelvin Lewis, 18, and his best friend Afonso Slater, 18, have weathered a lot during their longtime friendship – including the loss of their respective parents to HIV/AIDS, international adoptions and being accepted into the same American colleges.
The teens, who gave one another much-needed support in a Mozambique orphanage after their mothers died, were adopted – unknowingly – by two Gilbert, Arizona, families in 2008.
The Lewis and Slater families didn’t know one another and had no idea the boys were best friends when they signed the adoption papers.
Kelvin and Afonso chalk it up to fate.
“The only way this makes sense to me is that there was a higher plan for our friendship to last,” Afonso tells PEOPLE. “I needed Kelvin back in Mozambique, because we relied on each other for comfort. And I can’t explain it, but it just made sense that he would end up in Arizona too.”
He adds, “I just knew for some reason that he would be there for me again. That we would never be apart.”
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Against all odds, Kelvin and Afonso both left Mozambique in 2008 to begin their new lives in America – little did they know they would be living only one mile away from each other in a Gilbert neighborhood.
The Adoption Process
Greg and Sharon Slater weren’t planning on adopting children, but when they went on an AIDS-prevention program trip to Africa in 2002, they met Afonso and his brother and sister. The couple says they knew “in every fiber” that the siblings were supposed to become a part of their family.
For the next six years, Greg and Sharon worked round-the-clock to get the adoption approved – Sharon says it’s hard for American parents to adopt Mozambique children because judges fear the kids will be used for “slave labor.”
“An occasion that started out happy turned into this nightmare,” Sharon, 54, tells PEOPLE. “When we met the children it was amazing, we just knew they were already a part of our family.”
LaCinda and John Lewis share a similar story.
The parents describe meeting Kelvin, a “street-kid” who lived day to day searching for food, as seeing a long lost son for the first time. The parents fell in love with the boy’s warm personality and big heart when they met in 2003.
They also remember seeing their now son arm-in-arm with his buddy, Afonso.
“They were always like that, always together,” LaCinda, 57, tells PEOPLE. “We didn’t realize the extent of that friendship, but they were a support system. They relied on each other after their mothers died.”
LaCinda and John traveled to Mozambique five times over the next six years, meeting with judges and country officials, fighting for Kelvin’s adoption rights.
The Surprise of a Lifetime
Afonso and his siblings arrived in Gilbert a few months before Kelvin. The Slater and Lewis families, upon learning the two young boys had been best friends back in Mozambique, arranged a surprise reunion.
“I was so happy to have him around. I was grateful, of course, but being put in this new family of people that looked different than me It was hard to acclimate,” says Kelvin. “I felt like if we were together, everything would be okay.”
Afonso says he was grateful to have a familiar face as well.
“To have someone from home I could share this new life with was incredible,” he says. “To have him living only two minutes away was something like fate.”
The friends loved growing up in Arizona and found life with their adoptive families to be a natural fit.
Afonso and Kelvin went to the same high school, played on the varsity soccer team together and hung out on the weekends – planning out their futures and talking “girls and sports.”
The two will attend Brigham Young University together in the fall of 2016. Afonso plans on obtaining a degree in international studies so he can “better the international adoption system,” and Kelvin would like to study medicine to become a doctor in Mozambique.
“We talk about growing old, like sitting on our porches in a rocking chair, and living next door to each other, having our kids be best friends,” says Kelvin with a laugh. “We’re definitely more than friends, we’re brothers.”
“Brothers forever,” adds Afonso.