Going to Tanzania was not just about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro though that consumed most of my energy pre-trip (and, heck DURING the trip!). I had done a hike in the Transylvanian Alps in Romania last summer with Trekking for Kids (TFK) and I was so impressed, not only with the excellent logistics planning for the hike, but also with the great care with which the orphanage had been selected and the projects chosen. So going to Kilimanjaro was also about having another opportunity to help improve the lives of orphaned children via TFK. Tanzania is far and doing this trek was a not-trivial use of my time and money (though TFK is much cheaper than many outfits who organize Kili hikes). But I understood that my efforts would really make a difference on these kids’ lives and that my hike would be safe and well-planned.
I have written a few posts about the planning of my trip and the hike itself (see links at the end of this post). So I wanted to focus this post on the orphanage we worked with in Moshi: the Kili Centre.
The Kili Centre orphanage
I posted in LinkedIn that I was going to hike Kili and work with this orphanage as part of the fundraising all trekkers commit to do (raise a minimum of $1,000). One of my connections replied that she had been there and that the Centre’s leader, Michael, was doing a great job with the orphanage and the kids. Though I know TFK does a thorough job vetting orphanages, it was still good to hear this. After finally meeting and spending time with Michael in Moshi, I have to agree with the assessment my connection had made. He had a great vision for the orphanage and the projects he had proposed were very well thought through in terms of sustainability, impact to the children and the future of the orphanage, and ability to demonstrate to the donors their money had been well spent.
The projects funded at the Kili Centre
The future site of the Kili Centre
The Kili Centre rents its current location but it is not adequate anymore for the needs of the orphanage or meeting its future plans to accept more children. Some of the changes that would make it more adequate may not be acceptable to the landlord so the Kili Centre needed to find, not only a new location, but a place where it can be owner of its domain, so to speak.
What’s in a fence?
So Michael was able to raise funds to buy a new lot (with a GREAT view of Kilimanjaro!! though maybe this is not hard in the area given its proximity to the mountain and the height of the mountain). But this lot sat empty and ran the risk of being taken over by others. In many places in Africa, having title to land is not enough. If people squat on it, or neighboring folks start farming it, at some point one runs the risk of losing it. In addition, I heard there are rules that a purchased lot has to have something built on it in a certain amount of or, otherwise, the government can take it back. So here came an opportunity for the first and main project funded by the trekkers’ fundraising and their generous donors: building a perimeter fence around the lot.
H20 – Water – A basic necessity we take for granted
Though not an immediate impact to the kids’ lives, it will clearly help the children eventually have a new place that will better serve their needs. For example the current location of the orphanage does not have running water. So water must be trucked in (at great expense due to the cost of the vehicle and gas). In the new location, not only did the project build the perimeter fence (and the gate/guardhouse) but it also connected the lot to the town’s water system!!
I was very excited to see the running water during my visit of the new site. Water is fundamental to progress in less developed locations as it is essential for good health. Without good health, the education of the children suffers. So having running water in their new location will be a real improvement in the quality of life at the Kili Centre.
Clearly, just having a fence and running water will not be enough to give the Kili Centre its new home. However, the evidence that other donors saw the Kili Centre’s plan as solid will help it in fundraising to have the wherewithal to build the different structures that will be needed.
Chicks (not for free, contrary to what Dire Straits may say)
One of the Centre’s activities that provide both a food source and income is its chicken coop. However, the Centre had been forced to sell its chickens in order to pay for the schooling of the children. The chickens had been towards the end of their productive years so the decision to sell them for meat was a good one however, it set the chicken coop back. So, some of the budget TFK had for projects went to buy chicks to “replenish” the chicken coop and assure some income and food for the Centre.
The kids well-being
Another item on the project list was repairing the furniture in the kids’ rooms and getting them new mattresses with new mattress covers (to make them last longer) along with new blankets. Their rooms looked great!
Focus on education
As alluded to, the Centre is focused on the children getting a good education. (I wonder if the children of the Centre are more “lucky” than the children outside the orphanage given the attention paid to their studies by the Centre’s staff.) The Centre had a computer lab with learning software but the PCs were ancient and they no longer were going to be good for supporting new/additional software. TFK’s funds supported the wholesale replacement of the computer lab!
The focus on education does not stop at school and academics. The Centre had identified developing a sewing “program” to teach a potential income-earning skill to the girls at the orphanage. Once kids leave an orphanage, it is important to have given them education and skills to make it in life in terms of livelihood. So the Centre had proposed TFK fund a sewing room: from setting up the power outlets to the scissors and materials, and everything in between. With the funds provided, used sewing machines were acquired, brought up to par and installed in the new sewing room!
While these are not all the projects, I hope you can see why I was so pleased that my efforts to fundraise and my “investment” of my own time and money were well worth it. But enough about the projects and on to the great kids of the Kili Centre!!!
The first time we got to the Kili Centre, the children were right there waiting for us. They surrounded our bus as we arrived for the first of 4 days we would spend with them (2 before and 2 after climbing Kilimanjaro).
That day, they had prepared a dance show for us. You could tell they loved dancing and putting on a show and, in us, they had an audience wanting to see all they had prepared. The kids who danced were definitely high energy and not shy!
Our time at the Centre was mostly spent with the kids. We had brought gifts for them (they are kids after all!) and it was a lot of fun giving each of them a backpack full of goodies and also distributing items like soccer balls, frisbees, and volleyballs. Of course, we then got to use many of those things in an afternoon of just “being.” I worked along with two kids and another trekker on a challenging jigsaw puzzle that, to this day, I hate not having had time to finishing!
One night, we ate at the orphanage during a party where again the children danced and neighbors of the orphanage were invited to come. I was so proud watching the kids’ manners. They lined up by section to go get the food, took everything back when they were done, etc. Just like I noticed in Romania, the children of this orphanage were very well taught by their staff. The staff was very much engaged with the kids and I do not recall any instance of the staff just bossing the kids around. All the engagement I noticed was warm and, at times, playful. It made me feel good this was the right orphanage to have invested myself in.
One of the hardest moments in these trips is saying goodbye. You have developed, usually, a connection with some of the kids and you hate to leave. Unfortunately, the fourth day of being with the orphanage, I was bedridden with a nasty cold/infection that hit me once we came down from Kilimanjaro. I had forced myself on the third day to come along with the group but on the fourth day, I just slept all day. So I missed saying my goodbyes and I am saddened by that. However, I know the children now have a better home and are set up for an even better one in the future thanks to having been part of this trek.
To Michael and the staff at the Kili Centre: thank you for the great job you do with the kids and the Centre.
To TFK: thanks for another great opportunity to push myself (up a mountain) and to make a clear difference in childrens’ lives.
To my donors and supporters: thank you for your financial generosity and moral support to make this happen for the kids!
To the Kili Centre kids: keep studying hard, be good and stay cool!