The Moravian Church of Western Tanzania Orphan Program: The Origins
For our most recent trip report, from Drs. Bill and Peg Hoffman's 24th trip, June 2014, click here.
In the year 2000 eight percent of adult Tanzanians were infected with this fatal virus. Superstition combined with misinformation facilitated its spread. There was a conspiracy of silence; the word “AIDS” could not be used in public. It was into this environment that the Board of World Mission asked Central Moravian Church to use its existing partnership with the Sikonge Moravian Church as a vehicle to assist our partner province, the Moravian Church of Western Tanzania (MCWT), in confronting this epidemic.
Working through the Sikonge Moravian Hospital, a comprehensive approach to the AIDS epidemic was begun. One major component of this plan was to develop support for the ever increasing number of orphans.
In 2002, Mama Zipora Kimwaga and three of her friends from the Sikonge Moravian Church organized a community based orphan assistance program. The objective was to maintain these children in their extended family where they were living. This was to be done by providing the caregivers, usually grandparents, with the material support they needed, such as supplemental food, clothing, school supplies and uniforms, medical care, and personal items such as soap and sheets. The women enrolled 34 orphans in the first four weeks, and distributed supplies to the caregivers from Mama Kimwaga’s home.
From that modest start, the program grew exponentially. By the end of the first year it had added orphans from each of the subsections of Sikonge and had developed plans to include two major neighboring villages. All orphans, not only those created by the epidemic, were included. Moravian churches in the area were asked to provide women “who love children” to assist locally. By the end of 2011, twenty-five Moravian women, working in ten centers throughout the district, had expanded the effort to include a total of thirty four villages. Currently more than 3000 village children are receiving love and care from the orphan “Mamas” while continuing to live with their extended families.
At the request of MCWT, a similar but separate program was begun in the city of Tabora in January, 2004. It now includes five parishes (Milumbani, Ipuli, Isevya, Moria, and Kiloleni) where Moravian churches are located. Mama Anna Sikazwe and her four assistants are now providing care to 380 children. Both programs are guided by volunteers from Central Moravian Church.
Primary school education is free in Tanzania, but secondary school is not. In 2005 both programs expanded to include full secondary school scholarships for any orphan able to pass the government’s entrance exam. By the end of 2011, 439 children were registered for this additional benefit, a number that will undoubtedly continue to increase.
Adopt a Village
As the number of orphans receiving assistance continued to grow, the program’s financial requirements increased as well. In 2004 the Sikonge Committee of Central Moravian Church asked the Board of World Mission to sponsor a new concept called “Adopt a Village.” It was formulated with two goals. The first was to help fund the further expansion of the orphan program; the second was to provide an opportunity for churches in North America to form a relationship with a village in Western Tanzania.
The idea was straightforward; for a pledge of one thousand dollars a year for three years, a church, organization, or individual, would be given the opportunity to partner with one of the participating villages or parishes. They would then receive a map locating their village and pictures of the local “Mamas” and several of the children for whom they care.
The program was launched in January 2006 with an article in “the Moravian.” The response was overwhelming; forty-four churches, church groups and individuals participated, funding nearly 60% of the program’s expenses. Each village has been adopted by at least one sponsor. Several churches have adopted two villages and many have renewed their initial commitment. As 2012 began, the entire orphan program included 34 villages and 5 parishes where 30 Moravian “Mamas” were assisting nearly 3500 orphans.
From its inception, the program has been able to provide care for less than $22 per child, not per month, but per year! This remarkable accomplishment is possible for three reasons. First, Tanzania is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. The cost of living is very low; two adults can eat well for less than $4 per week. Second, the program does not supply all the children’s needs. It supplements what the caregivers are already providing to keep the orphans on par with their peers. Third, Central Moravian Church and its volunteers provide the funding necessary for orphan oversight; 100% of every dollar donated to the Adopt a Village program goes to Tanzania where it is spent by Tanzanians for Tanzanians. For this reason, donations of any amount are greatly appreciated and are used effectively.
To be certain the orphan program does not outgrow its funding, it is no longer expanding to additional villages. Attention has been focused instead on the increasing numbers of orphans attending secondary school and the relationships between the villages in Tanzania and the churches of North America. Multiple Sunday schools in both the northern and southern provinces have exchanged pictures and letters with their partners in the Sikonge district. Many churches have gone beyond orphan care and have begun providing support for Moravian congregations and local schools. Benches have been purchased for sanctuaries and desks have been given to village schools .Wells have been constructed, and churches are being built. Three North American churches have sent representatives to their partner village to meet its pastor and visit its orphan households with the “Mamas.” The response by any standard has been impressive.
The challenges facing orphaned children in Africa can be enormous, but the Moravian orphan ladies, assisted by their Adopt a Village partners, are providing the love and care that will enable these children to grow into the nation of tomorrow.
“MORAVIANS: ONE FAITH, TWO WORLDS”
In June 2006, Central member Mia Mecleary went on a 35 day visit to Tanzania accompanied by physicians Bill and Peg Hoffman and a reporter and photographer from the Morning Call newspaper. Mia's visit included consultation with the Bishop of the Western Province on financial and management issues, touring the orphan program’s villages, and participating in the church life of our partner congregation in the village of Sikonge. Rev. Gordon Mower and his wife Mary, accompanied by other family members, joined Mia on a portion of this trip and also enjoyed visiting with the people of Sikonge and learning first hand about our on-going partnership. A six part series was subsequently published in the Morning Call.