Pictured: Jenny Peck has helped the evolution of the Organization's Community Outreach Program from the ground up
It was a quick exchange, and I have to admit, it didn’t stand out as anything out of the ordinary in a day full of meetings packed in the middle of a week full of meetings as the New Year arrived. We were all so busy with end of the year things, as well as two new kids being entered into the Igoda Children's Village, half a dozen building projects underway, a tutoring program involving all of the students at the Children’s Village, and meeting after meeting taking place as we initiated the new program of departments for better operational efficiency. Stacey Droll, our Peace Corps extender volunteer came into the office, and apologized for interrupting the meeting, and told Jenny that she was about to leave to Mlevelwa village to talk to a family about possibly entering their child into the Children’s Village. The government had asked us to take in the child, who was suffering from neglect and malnutrition, but the family was from an area of that village that was not very educated, and they had a history of reluctance towards following conventional wisdom. After Stacey explained what she was about to do, Jenny began giving instructions.
JENNY: Make sure you meet Kibuga Fute and take him with you to the family, and take Maria as well if you can, they’re both Home Based Care Volunteers and will be able to help explain the situation.
STACEY: I can’t get a hold of Maria; she’s been hapatikana (unreachable) all day.
JENNY: Ok, well you can take Kibuga by himself, and that will work well, as he’s with Tunajali.
Thinking back on it, I think this was the point where my brain told me to pay attention. The simple fact that we have people to connect with in each of the surrounding villages- people who have been trained either by us, or by others (Tunajali) - who now are trained in the work of Orphan Care is an invaluable resource that saves lives everyday in this rural area. This has been a development at least four years in the making.
When Jenny joined the NGO after completing 2 years of Peace Corps Service in a neighboring village, she was given a position with the laborious-sounding job title of Orphanage Manager, and Community Outreach Coordinator. Essentially she would be the face of the NGO, explaining what we are here for, and she would be working with local leadership to decide which families were most in need, and which children would be coming to the children’s village. She began in 2008 by visiting families in the village house-by-house and listening to their stories. She would meet with village leaders- either the local government executive, a pastor at a church, a teacher at the school, or just a concerned neighbor, and they would lead her to the families most in need. Back in 2008 there was very little formalized care of Orphaned and Vulnerable Children, or OVCs as they are oft labeled. In just four years the difference is striking. Each village now has a committee for Most Vulnerable Children, a committee for People Living with HIV/AIDS, and thanks to training seminars funded by donors to our NGO, there are now multiple Home Based Care Volunteers in each village that are streamlining the work done by the NGO and the committees. An overall sense of community has come to this area; one that had been devastated by HIV. This community had become overwhelmed by the enormity of this pandemic and was unable to care for their neighbor as before. In fact taking care of one’s self had become a daily struggle, as treatment was unavailable in a community that essentially had an HIV positive person living in each of its households. Now things are different, and the battle against the disease is turning.
Jenny continued with instructions, this time regarding what to do upon meeting with the families’ inevitable reluctance to adhere to the local government’s advice. The one and a half year old baby was suffering from a form of malnutrition called Kwashiorkor that stems from a lack of protein, and Jenny wanted the health risks parlayed.
JENNY: When you get to their house, you have to explain to the Mother how serious it is that her child has Kwashiorkor, and in the Hospital in this area 33% of all cases that arrive there end in death.
If they agree to have the child come here (to Igoda Children’s Village) then you will have to pass the government office to get a letter of approval or agreement saying the child has permission to stay here. If the family refuses, you have to then report that to the Para-social worker. His name is Stefano. Kibuga knows who he is and how to get in touch with him.
JENNY: Alright, you can call us if there’re any issues.
After hearing these last instructions, I couldn’t help but think about all the progress the NGO has made in the past four years. I thought about our first visit from Dr. Leena Pasanen almost exactly four years ago in January 2009, and all that she has brought to this community. With her 30+ years of experience working in rural Tanzania, she has brought a calming professional health service to the community that has already saved countless lives through her diagnostics and treatment over the years at clinics and home visits. Dr. Leena told us about the 33% factor at her Hospital in Illembula village, and she has given countless people advice and guidance on better health practices that has improved the health education of the area enabling the community to make strides towards better development.
I thought about the progress we’ve made, that could not have happened without the help and cooperation of local government. I remembered a meeting in that same village of Mlevelwa where the leaders of the village met with several families when we arrived one day to talk about what was best for their children. Each village leader was visibly concerned primarily and compassionately with the children. I remembered one day in another very remote village named Isipii when the chairman of the village and the head teacher of the school were so excited to hear we were coming to survey the Orphaned and Vulnerable Children of their village that they called all of the most needy cases to come to the school to wait for us there so we wouldn’t have to visit each home. We had never seen such concern for children in a village before. We still visited the homes of the children most in need from that group, and after the proper processes two girls from that group we saw that day came to stay at Igoda Children’s Village. Three and half years later, both girls from Isipii are thriving at Igoda Children’s Village. Datrai spent her last two years of primary school as head prefect, and this year enters Form two (her second year of Secondary School). The second girl, Kandida, finished with the best grades in her class last year in Standard 5.
As Jenny mentioned the para-social worker who reports to the district, I also thought about the help from the district government that has helped us, and this community, develop so quickly in such a short time. The district social welfare officer has become a good friend of ours, and the regional officer has visited us as well. With their help, and their backing, we have been able to do right by these children. The District Commissioner as well for Mufindi District this year helped us by allowing us to open a kindergarten at the Children’s Village this year, and helping us jump through the necessary bureaucratic hoops to get the service to the community.
In just a thirty second exchange Jenny had brought to mind the amazing progress the NGO has made in just a few short years. Things will only move faster over the next three to five years. Strategies are in place, as well as local leadership, and as the children from the Children’s Village grow older, they will be the leaders of their own community. It is exciting to think about the real tangible change that can be made in this community through the partnerships and cooperation with everyone involved. It such an honour to be working in this community, and witnessing this change first-hand.