Monday, November 24, 2008

Mkula Children's Center.

One of the organizations that I'm working with, BCDSA, has a number of different projects that function at varying levels - depending on the current state of their funds. All of their projects either work towards preventing children from becoming vulnerable (by assisting their mothers to remain independent and secure) or caring for children that have already found themselves in a vulnerable situation.

Their cornerstone project is Mkula Children’s Center, an orphanage 2 hours outside of Mwanza for 25 children – 13 boys and 12 girls between the ages of 4 and 16. Some of them have lost both their parents. Others have family in the nearby community, but their home situations are not safe places for them to live. One of the little boys, Erikana, has run away from home 3 times – each time walking the 120 KM to Mwanza, where he has lived on the street. Since being in Mwanza this 3rd time, a group of street boys attempted to rape him twice. In response, he sought help from Streetwise, an NGO for street children here in Mwanza. They suggested that he try living at the Mkula Children’s Center, at least for a while. The Center is near his family, so Streetwise hopes to gradually mediate and build a relationship between Erikana and someone in his extended family – in hopes that he won’t need to permanently stay at the Children’s Center.

The situation at the Children’s Center is difficult. When BCDSA started it, they had sufficient funds to begin the home from their five Tanzanian founding members. Unfortunately, only two of the original founding members are still able to donate to BCDSA, and they are constantly struggling to find funds to support the Center. At this point, the home is extremely deteriorated, they only have one staff member (who works most of the time as a volunteer) and they continually struggle to find money for food for the children.

The Tanzanian Government has recently donated a 15-acre plot of land to the Children’s Center to use for farming. The children farm a small portion of the land on the weekends when they don’t have school, and are currently watching their first crop of maize grow. I recently completed a grant application with BCDSA for oxen and a plough for the Children’s Center to use for farming. This wouldn’t solve the problem in its entirety, but would (hopefully) allow the center to produce a few staple items for the children to eat throughout the year. Together with BCDSA and SAIDA, I am also working on organizing an in-kind food donation campaign to encourage local businesses to donate a portion of their goods to the Center. But, both of these efforts are focused on long-term food sustainability. And, though that is good in many ways – it is still difficult to reconcile knowing that the children don’t have food for today.

A few weeks ago, Eric and I visited Mkula Children’s Center with some of BCDSA’s staff. The children were welcoming and kind and beautiful. They were curious about and amused by Eric. They shyly greeted me – and, when they didn’t think I was looking, they gently touched my hair. There was a distinct sense of comradery about them, a distinct feeling that they were in all of this together. The BCDSA staff brought some food with them – a bag of rice, a bag of beans, some bread – and though the children were delighted, their excitement to receive such a basic gift was deeply sad for Eric and I to see.

The situation at Mkula Children’s Center is difficult.
...difficult to understand, difficult to reconcile, difficult to see, difficult to share. But that, I suppose, is exactly why SAIDIA is here – to bring international support and volunteers to these small organizations that are working in difficult situations to care for others, to care for the most vulnerable among us.


Betsy Grace Matheson Symanietz said...

I love all your stories... and meeting these people you're meeting... feeling my heart well up and burst a little.

I love you so.
xo *b

Anonymous said...

I love all of your stories! It just breaks my heart...the kids, their faces...I love that you are there to advocate for these little ones. Thanks for sharing all of your stories...

We have so much to be thankful for! Happy Thanksgiving from miles away!
Love, Kristin