Orphans are a social and financial liability in the developing third world, both to their families and to their country. If ignored or abandoned, these children will become an increasing burden on their surrounding society. Because of their large numbers, they will make a significant impact on the future of Africa.
The Moravian Church of Western Tanzania’s orphan program began in 2001. Functioning as both Christian outreach and an effort at evangelism, it provides food, clothing, medical care, and educational assistance to all orphans regardless of religious affiliation.
Unlike most African nations, primary school (grades 1-7) is free in Tanzania, but the students are responsible for purchasing their own uniforms and school supplies. The program provides these items to the orphans, thus enabling many who were previously unable to take advantage of a free primary education to do so. Most encouraging, several children in their mid teens, in spite of their age, have returned to grade school.
In 2005, Rehema Salumu finished the seventh grade and became the first orphan to pass the government’s secondary school entrance exam. The tuition and additional fees required for secondary education are beyond the reach of most Tanzanians, but recognizing this child’s potential, Mama Kimwaga, the head of the orphan program, asked if a donor could be found to allow her to continue her education. Central Moravian’s Busy Workers generously provided the necessary funding.
One year later Dr. Benedict Ruhamya, speaking to a large gathering of Moravians in Bethlehem, made an impassioned plea to include secondary school scholarships as a routine part of the orphan program. Central’s Twenty Minute Society agreed with his sentiments and donated the necessary funding to begin. With additional support from the newly created “Adopt-a-Village,” secondary school education became an standard part of orphan care.
Four years ago Asha Mikadadi, a Muslim orphan, began attending a secondary school for specially gifted girls located over two hundred kilometers from her home. She did exceptionally well, and this year became the first girl in the program to enter high school. While unique in her achievement, she is only one of 439 orphans who are using these scholarships to continue their education beyond primary school.
Lenard Sindano and Paulo John both graduated from high school in 2010 and became the first orphans eligible to enter the university. After discussion with local leader Mama Kimwaga and review of the program’s finances, it was decided to fund students’ ongoing education needs as long as they fulfilled the government’s continuing education requirements and were enrolled in a government school. In April of this year Lenard Sindano graduated from teachers college; he will begin his career as a secondary school teacher this summer. Paulo John will finish his three year program in education next spring.
Not all students that finish primary school continue on an academic track. Like many others, Justin Oscar, an orphan from the village of Lembeli, passed the secondary school entrance exam and enrolled at the vocational educational training authority, known as VETA. After three years of training he graduated in 2010 as a professional driver, an important and well paid position in Tanzania. He now has a secure job working for a corporation in the city of Tabora.
Orphans account for over 15 percent of the Tanzanian youth population. Due to the country’s poverty, which is exacerbated within these broken families, they rarely experience opportunities equal to those of their non-orphaned peers. By providing these children with the financial resources necessary to remain in school, the orphan program gives them the chance to become productive citizens, advancing not only their own lives but contributing to their country as well.
Bill Hoffman is a member of Central Moravian Church and leads the Adopt-a-Village program. He provides frequent reports on the work of the church in Tanzania, home to more than half of the Moravians worldwide.