Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Early Childhood Education at Igoda Children's Village

Can we join in too?! Teacher Dorkas is leading a Circle Time song that gets everyone up and moving!
Mufindi Orphans has not only expanded its Children’s Village, but also the scope and depth of other projects! The goal of these Educational programs is to work within the existing educational framework to create sustainable options and pathways for all children. There is an understanding that national education standards cannot be changed, but students and teachers can be empowered to use available resources and think outside of the box! For teachers, Mufindi Orphans and its partners provide a Kindergarten Village Outreach Program, and for students, we work in three sectors: Early Childhood Education, Vulnerable Youth Sponsorship and Support, and Vocational Schooling. This blog will focus on the early childhood education provided on-site to the Vulnerable Children under the care of Igoda Children’s Village, as well as local youth.
Igoda Village student Anita practices her addition! She is top
of her class in math and the independent learning style of the
classroom allows her to move at her own pace- and she sure flies!
Welcome to the Interactive Learning Pre-school and Kindergarten! Mufindi Orphans- through a partnership with the Olive Branch for Children in Mbeya, Tanzania - has taken Western educational philosophy, tweaked it, and developed a culturally sensitive model for rural village schools with little government support. Mufindi Orphans has both on-site classrooms, as well as a Kindergarten Village Outreach Program - which will be highlighted in a later blog!

There are currently two pre-school classes (ages 8 months to 1.5 years and 1.5 years to 3 years) and two Kindergarten classes (ages 3 years to 8 years) on-site. The teaching style is based on the Montessori-philosophy of child-directed learning. This means that the teacher follows the child's interest and pace through the engagement of self-correcting, independent activities. School curriculum uses culturally appropriate, independent activities that are organized into Montessori’s Five Sections of the Classroom: Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Language, and Culture and Science. Each child is free to move from one activity to another based upon their interests. The teacher’s role is to observe and guide.
James is a little boy with a killer smile. Unfortunately, he
also has a back deformity that makes getting up and around difficult.
This classroom is a perfect place for him because he is able to be
supported in a chair at an appropriate level and engage in activities
that hold his interest!
Each day is broken up into two periods of independent activity and three short Circle Times. The day begins with a Circle Time where the children and teachers greet each other, talk about the day, and do a fun song or game. The following two Circle Times are also filled with songs, dancing, games, and activities that allow the children to release energy but in a structured way. The children often take turns leading the songs, and it is not uncommon to hear both English and Swahili songs being used. In fact, Circle Time is usually the first place an English word or greeting is introduced, tied to a song or game. It is a goal of the school to integrate English and Swahili completely.
Even snack time is an activity that is used to teach
independence! Students enjoy their snack independently at a table set
for four. As one student finishes another takes her place without
prompting from the teacher. Students love to treat it as a mini
"restaurant" and enjoy their break time just like the rest of us!
This “new” approach to early childhood education is an important departure from more strict teaching methods commonly seen in over-crowded classrooms. This method has ultimately been more effective in this rural setting for a number of reasons. First, this methodology has been proven effective in high volume classrooms and little resources. This means that in most Kindergarten classrooms in the village, books, furniture, desks, and shelving are all anomalies. About 90% of the on-site classroom activities and materials are hand-crafted by teachers, setting the example that one doesn’t need money to teach. All that is needed is a little ingenuity, resourcefulness, and dedication to the job at hand. Second, the independent activity approach to teaching means that students can work together in small groups that are overseen and guided by the teacher. No longer is one teacher attempting to control and gain the attention of 100 five year olds (a common ratio in village classrooms). Finally, a classic Montessori classroom contains children of a wide age range- as do classrooms in the village. The child-directed philosophy allows each child the freedom to move at their own pace, regardless of the level of their fellow peers. Teachers then have the freedom to provide more advanced students with harder and harder activities to prepare them for Primary School, while younger children can refine their motor skills and practice culturally appropriate skills they can use at home!
Boni is a sweet boy with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome who thrives in
the Interactive Learning Kindergarten. Boni loves the Practical Life
activities of the classroom that encourages him to refine his motor
skills and perfect life skills that sometimes don't come as easy to
him. He just needs a little bit more time to do things himself and
this environment gives him just that!
The vulnerable youth at the Children's Village thrive under the structure and routine that the classroom provides. They are allowed freedom to explore and engage their interests with tangible, reinforced limits. This, as well as the individualized attention, means that development is monitored more closely than ever and troubled behavior can be addressed quickly. Teachers are able to work closely with guardians to reinforce discipline and send cohesive messages to the children. Also, the teachers are very familiar with the children and the medical problems each child may face so they can give them the best care and report any changes in health status quickly and efficiently. It is the hope of Mufindi Orphans to one day be able to provide on-site schooling for all children who face medical problems that might prevent them from thriving in local schools.
To promote peace education and community building, at
the end of every school day, each child receives a high-five, a hug,
and a kiss on the cheek from every other student and teacher! It is a
great way to support a loving classroom environment and the kids love
to show their affection for their friends this way!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Furahini Returns Home

It was a special anniversary this July 7th as the Children’s Village turned 7 years old. The day was made even more special as one of the children from the center returned home. We congratulated the family on their own developments, and we are very pleased at the loving environment that Furahini will be growing into in her home village of Isipi/Lulanda.

Children's Village guardian Isaya Mwila hosts the 'graduation ceremony' for Furahini Mponzi

Furahini’s Father was overwhelmed when his wife passed away in 2010 leaving behind 4 children including Furahini a newborn. Furahini’s mother passed away at childbirth as the Hospital where Furahini was born forgot to deliver the placenta, and she did not survive the infection.

From Furahini's Family History form as filed by NGO Staff

Furahini (middle) flanked by
her best friends at the ceremony
At 4 days old Furahini moved in to Igoda Children’s Village with the agreement that after 3-4 years she would return home to her well-prepared family. Furahini’s Father has contributed whenever and whatever he can to the Children’s Village, and this has shown all guardians that he cares for his daughter and will be an engaged parent in her upbringing. Furahini will be enrolled into the nursery program at Isipi primary school that was started this year by efforts from the NGO, and this will help the organization keep up with Furahini as she adjusts to her new home.

Every child that is entered into Igoda Children’s Village arrives under very challenging circumstances. We have seen more and more often that as the community progresses positively, in part through Foxes’ NGO initiates such as the advent of HIV treatment, health education, vulnerable child care, and educational strengthening in the schools, more and more families are healthy and able to care for their children again. This proves to be one of the greatest achievements so far as an organization, and a sign that development is headed in the right direction!

Furahini's care provider greeting the
family members that will be taking-in Furahini

Monday, July 7, 2014

Another Dismas Makonye Update

One year ago this month Dismas Makonye ‘graduated’ from the Igoda Chidren’s Village. This can be a difficult process for our older children- moving back to the village and finding their way in a new community. The Children’s Village does its best to mimic life in the village, but it is a last resort for childcare, and the ideal situation is for an able family to care for children in the village.
Dismas escorts Baraka back to his home for dinner.
Dismas is helping the guardians of the
Children's Village during school holiday.

The transition back home is not always a success for older children, as there can be any number of difficulties adjusting to village life. The NGO follows up frequently through village leadership, Home Based Care Volunteers, and other advocates to ensure the child is in a loving environment. This is a good way to stay updated on the child's progress going forward.

Dismas is one of our grand success stories so far! He has returned and has worked hard to continue his schooling, and as of today he is in Form 3, and well on his way to complete his O-level schooling. He has stayed in contact with the Children’s Village and is still a big part of the family. He is a role model for the younger children to look up to- an example of how life can go on after living at the Children’s Village.

This school holiday he has spent his time working at the Children’s Village to earn his school fees, and pay for his school needs. He has been working on projects that help the Children’s Village, and that are comparable to those a student would work on in the community during holiday. These include working on livestock projects, and helping to care for younger children in the family. It has been very encouraging to see him grow into a respectful, caring, hard-working young man!
Dismas collects 'feed' for our Cow Project

Congratulations to Dismas, and to the Care-givers at Igoda Children’s Village for all the hard work that has gone into creating a loving environment for kids in which they can thrive, succeed, and achieve their goals!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

April 2014

The month of April was another busy one here in Mufindi with Foxes’ NGO. April is always highlighted by Easter festivities, and it marks an anniversary of the founding of the NGO. Our Tanzanian organization turned 9 years old last month, and along the way there have been some fantastic supporters from the UK (wildorphans.org)Canada (africanbookbox.org) and the US (mufindiorphans.org) and we have made new friends from various countries around the world. It seems the successful projects here, and the people of Mufindi have an affect on people whenever our stories are introduced.

Yohana taking an afternoon nap at
house number 2, aptly nicknamed
 'the baby house'

Recently, we welcomed Yohana into the family. He becomes the 12th child under 2 years of age at the Children’s Village. Our ‘campus’ has 6 children’s homes, and house #2 is home to all the babies. At the age of two or three, children ‘graduate’ to other houses if or when a new infant arrives. Each case is different, but most of the younger children come from extremely impoverished backgrounds, and their families either need to get healthier through treatment and time, or re-build their lives to create a safer environment for their children. All children enter into the Children’s Village under the official guidance of the District Social Welfare Office, the village leaders in the area, and trusted community members. Only the most extreme cases are entered into the Children’s Village, as every effort is made to help the family raise the child in the village.

Yohana is one of the many young children brightening everyone’s day at the Children’s Village. He is well-loved, and is a real crowd pleaser at the baby house! He actually arrived the day he was born as his mother had complications during childbirth and had passed away. He was brought to the Children’s Village by his uncle and aunt who contribute what they can to his upbringing, but are hoping to  prepare a stable environment for Yohanna’s childhood once he reaches the age of 3 or 4. Yohana is now 2 months old, from the village of Isipi. Upon returning to his family in the village, he will hopefully be able to enroll in a nursery school program as the Nursery/Kindergarten program as we hope to expand the program to each village in the area.

Kamilia Kihongole helps a student at
Igoda Children's Village Kindergarten

The integrated early childhood education program for nursery school and kindergarten has continued successfully even as the organization continues to search for support for this program. 30 teachers have been trained in Montessori teaching methods that will bring creativity and self-directed learning to young children. 11 schools now have some form of pre-school education where before there was none, and students were forced to enter grade one- often times having never held a pencil, or any education preparing them for reading and writing. This program will change the lives of so many children in the area, and will no doubt have a vast impact on the future of this community. The foundation of early education is of utmost importance to this community, and many villages have banded together to support their schools’ program. Our organization plans to work side-by-side with these communities, as we will offer seminars, help with support the school with basic materials, and assist with monitoring and evaluating to ensure the schools get the most out of their schools. The program seeks to tap in to the desire for education that the entire community has, and we look forward to these partnerships coming together to facilitate foundational education for all young children.

For Easter this year, all the children were invited to play water balloon tag, and go on a scavenger hunt with guests at the nearby Fox Farm Lodge. At the end of the day a group picture was taken with most of the NGO ‘family.’ We are so proud of all of them, and the contributions they are making to their community.

One of the now annual traditions- the family Easter photo (2013)

April is a particularly difficult month for weather in Mufindi. The hard, heavy rains seemed to continue non-stop this month! We were blessed to be given an Ambulance through the hard work of Bob and Elaine Prior, and all of the supporters that helped with their campaign! We were further blessed to make it through the rainy season with no problems as the heavy duty Ambulance/Land Rover was able to pass through any obstacle the muddy roads presented.

This month also saw the graduation of Akida Mdalingwa, and Florian Mtilega from A-level schooling. Both of these young men grew up in Ikaning’ombe village, and overcame many challenges to score exceptional marks in their schooling, and became leaders at schools that are well-renowned throughout all of Tanzania! They each received support through sponsorships from supporters of the NGO. Florian won leadership awards at his graduation, and Akida was the student selected to give his class speech to the honored guest at graduation ceremony. We are very proud of both of them, and we can only hope we find future sponsorships to enable more exceptional children from this area to create a brighter future for themselves and Tanzania!
The NGO family made sure Florian Mtilega had the biggest contingency at
Ruaha Secondary School's Form 6 festivities this year!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Children’s Village Mass Exodus

Signs of Development
2013 was one an unprecedented year for development in Mufindi, as it seemed as though the signs of development were everywhere. More homes were built, more homes refurbished, more vehicles were purchased, and most importantly more families pulled themselves out of extreme poverty than ever before. In just one year electricity was offered to and installed into hundreds of homes in the area, a water project for many villages was proposed, and accepted, and for the first time since Igoda Children’s Village opened in 2007, the number of children enrolled at the Children’s Village went down. This was due to the fact that more families were on their own feet, and healthy enough to care for their children again. Extensive follow-up on families in the first few months of 2014 has shown a great level of success for the children who have returned to their families.

Graduation Process
When a child finishes his or her stay at the Children’s Village, we call this a graduation. It is a carefully calculated process as the exit can be bittersweet. Children love the Children’s Village, but find great happiness in returning to their families in the village. For their part, families find great pride in having their children back with them. Many factors go into the decision making process for a family and for our organization both when a child enters the Children’s Village, and when that child is prepared to leave.
Some of the questions asked of families wishing to have their child back into the village with them include how often that family came to visit the child while living at the Children’s Village, what type of home and standard of living have the family created or prepared for the returning child, and how able is the family to ensure that the child will continue with good health, and remain in school?
A family wishing to welcome their child home generally comes to visit the Children’s Village, and is then asked these questions, and more, followed by a house visit. The family then must acquire a letter from a local authority stating they are able to care for the child. Most often the child has already visited the home over night, or for an extended period of time during a school holiday to help acclimate both sides to the new transitional period. Once all parties are happy with the situation a graduation party is planned, and they are one of the more joyous occasions here at the Children’s Village. While everyone at the Children’s Village says farewell to a loved member of the center, ultimately the ceremony is a celebration as everyone is glad to see the development in the community.
Follow up, and the Future of the Children’s Village
Every feasible measure is taken to follow up on children and families once they have returned home. Since the process of graduation helps build the relationship between the child, the family, and the organization, everyone is interested in what is best for the child, and even if another stay at the Children’s Village is needed while adjustments are made at the child’s home, this decision is discussed and reached at a consensus.
In June 2013 the Children’s Village hosted 80 children, and at the start of March 2014, there are now 48. In recent weeks however, and influx of infants have been enrolled, all with plans to stay for 2-4 years while their families prepare to support their schooling. Most infants are enrolled as a result of the passing of their mother, and families find it hard to cope with the infant child. All of us foresee a need a for infant care continuing into the future. Meanwhile, fewer and fewer older children have been enrolled in the past 6 months, and we again contribute that to the level of positive development in the community. The availability of HIV treatment has worked wonders for this area, and we have started to see the results of these developments in a very tangible and rapid way this year.
While the area begins to recover, the organization’s work must shift with the need. While great strides need to be taken now to prevent a regression from all of the hard work that has been done with this community the past 9 years, it is uplifting to see that there is a great deal of success to be proud of already!

Monday, November 18, 2013


Nache Kisapi has been living at Igoda Children's Village for one year now. He has had a tough life, as his mother, who seems to have given up on life, discontinued his HIV treatment, and later his treatment for tuberculosis. 
Since Nache has moved to stay at Igoda Children's Village he has had expensive, lengthy stays at Hospitals, and we have been fortunate to have several visiting health volunteers come to help keep him in good health.
In May this year his CD4 was tested, and he had a count of 2, or virtually no immunity to any disease. His lungs were both failing due to prolonged lung disease, and just as he seemed to be recovering from pneumonia, he contracted a case of shingles.

At Igoda Children's Village he has received one-to-one care from members of our NGO from the health department, to older students putting themselves through school, to guardians at the Children's homes. Everyone has been hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.

Incredibly his health has taken a turn for the better. After months in his bed and visits in and out of the Hospital, he has now started to get his life back! He has been out of school for more than a year (he is 12 years old) but he now attends the kindergarten everyday with hopes to return to school in the new year. His recovery was the result of a lot of hard work from a lot of extremely caring individuals, and he still has a ways to go to complete recovery, but he seems to be on the mend. 

Our holiday wish this week is for thoughts and prayers for Nache and children like him who are fighting against this disease, and for those who are doing everything they can so these children can be kids again!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Prevention of Vertical Transmission of HIV: A Community Approach

Due to the high prevalence of HIV in the Mufindi district of Tanzania, any HIV preventative measure, such as prevention of vertical transmission through breast milk, is vitally important to the overall health of the community. Local health facilities, and any stakeholders in the health sector, need to consolidate their message on HIV treatment so as to deliver a clear and understandable method of preventing the spread of the disease. Advice to HIV positive mothers on breast-feeding practices has been historically confusing, so added interventions to clarify the message are paramount (Africa: HIV-Positive Women Still Confused About Infant-Feeding Choices, n.d.).  One of the more powerful ways to bring unity to this message is through community involvement, which can have tangible benefits such as lowering the incidence of new infections (Celentano et. al., 2008). A community approach to spreading the message to as many mothers affected by HIV as possible would be most effective in bringing education to all, and adding more than just treatment to the fight against HIV (Lancet, 2001).
By engaging with community members that might not be fully trained health professionals, but are nonetheless seen as leaders in the health sector, the message could be spread most effectively to each HIV positive mother in the community at the grassroots level, as this is a proven method for sharing information in a rural setting (Anafi et. al., 2012). To parlay the message of HIV prevention options to each potential mother affected by HIV in the area, various stakeholders from the community need to be sharing the same message to all of their clients and neighbors. This will ensure a unified message that will make it easier for these women to understand and properly educate themselves.
In order to get the community involved, steps must be taken first to clarify exactly what the problem is, then how it can be solved. An HIV+ breast-feeding mother from this rural area can be easily confused or convinced not to do the right thing if there are mixed messages.  Various community leaders need to be informed together about how the community in Mufindi can better prevent vertical transmission of HIV through breastfeeding in order to avoid mixed messages and to guarantee the correct message is hitting the mark.  One method that could be used is a study circle, in which private meetings can be held with all stakeholders to identify the problem of vertical transmission through breast-feeding, to clarify the options available and initiate a plan on how to educate the public about the solutions.
In this particular instance, the stakeholders comprising the study circle are of upmost importance, as without them, the plan to involve the community would not be able to reach its full potential.  Religious leaders should be involved as their faith based communities listen to them for moral guidance (Trinitapoli 2006). In the majority of villages in Mufindi, there is no access to a clinical officer let alone a doctor, so community members are forced to go to traditional healers and local midwives, called wakunga, who assist community members daily. They should be on the forefront of current health knowledge, as often people seek out their wisdom, and in some cases, trust them more than they trust a doctor of Western medicine (Marlink, et. al., 2009).  Brining these healers up-to-date and on the same side will be the best line of defense the community has to getting the message out quickly and effectively.  Alongside the local healers and wakunga, health care workers, community members that have received a basic training in young children’s health, should also be invited to participate in the study circle.  They meet the mothers in the community every month to educate on nutrition and good health practices, weigh babies and monitor their development, give vaccinations for those in need, and advise mothers on various topics from birth control to teething.  As all mothers in the community are familiar with these health workers already and a trusting relationship has already been established, they are perfect candidates to speak to the public and educate en masse proper breastfeeding practices for HIV positive mothers.  Finally, Home Based Care Volunteers (HBCV) could help spread the word of up-to-date breastfeeding protocols to help in lowering the incidence of HIV in breastfeeding children as they have already made a network of patients in the community and are looked at as reliable, trustworthy advocates for the community members’ health (Ford, et. al., 2013). 
At the study circle, members would be invited to discuss the topic of HIV-positive women breastfeeding and everyone would be educated with a clear and concise solution. Change would then take place after the study circle as the community members would be hearing the same message from all respected leaders of the community: at the health clinic with the doctor practicing western medicine, with the local healer practicing local medicine, when the mkunga helps deliver a baby, when a mother goes to a ‘weigh day’ in the village and finally when the HBCV comes to visit.  Everyone is saying the same thing.  If a community member didn’t trust the first person, but kept hearing the same message from four or five other wise and trusted members of the community, the likelihood they would listen, and therefore react, would increase. 
By getting the key community leaders involved in sharing the message of health education, HIV positive breast-feeding mothers are more likely to hear the message and more likely to follow through with the appropriate intervention. As HIV can be transmitted through breast-milk, it is of extreme importance to ensure HIV positive mothers know exactly how to prevent this vertical transmission.  One strong and consolidated message needs to be heard from all sources surrounding them. Community involvement in HIV prevention is constantly evolving (Heise, et.al. 2013) and engaging the community on this HIV prevention intervention is a leading method for change in this area.

1. Africa: HIV-Positive Women Still Confused About Infant-Feeding Choices. (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2013 from: Integrated Regional Information Networks website: http://www.irinnews.org/report/94432/africa-hiv-positive-women-still-confused-about-infant-feeding-choices

2. Anafi, P., Asiamah E., Agyepong I., Oduro G.,Y & Owusu-Danso, T. (2012). Using Appropriate Communication Strategies for HIV Prevention Education in Rural Communities in Ghana. Princeton Papers – 120613.

3. Celentano, D., Charlebois, E., Chingono, A., Coates, T., Fritz, K., Khumalo-Sakutukwa, G., Modiba, P., Morin, S., Mrumbi, K., Singh, B., Sweat, M., Van Rooyen, H., Visrutaratna, S., (2008). A Community-Based Intervention to Reduce HIV Incidence in Populations at Risk fro HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa and Thailand. US National Library of Medicine National Institue of Health. Vol. 49(4). pg. 422-31.

4. Community Based Approaches to HIV Treatment in Resource-poor Settings. (2001). The Lancet. Vol. 358. August 4, 2001.

5. Ford, N., Frost, P., Mburu, G., Mwai, G., (2013). Role and Outcomes of Community Health Workers in HIV care is Sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review. Journal of the International AIDS Society 2013. Vol. 16.

6. Heise, L., Slevin, K., Ukpong, M., (2013). Community Engagement in HIV Prevention Trials: Evolution of the Field and Opportunities for Growth. Publications from Path.org AIDS2031.

7. Marlink RG, Teitelman ST, eds. From the Ground Up: Building Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Care Programs in Resource-Limited Settings. Washington, DC: Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation; 2009. http://ftguonline.org.

8. Tools, Trends, and New Technologies in HIV Prevention. Retrieved from October 19, 2013 from Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development website: http://www.icad-cisd.com/pdf/Tools_trends_and_new_technologies_in_HIV_prevention_EN.pdf

9. Trinitapoli, J., (2006).  Religious Reponses to AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Examination of Religious Congregations in Rural Malawi. Review of Religious Research 2006. Vol 47:3. pg 253-270.