Enabling action in Tanzania
Our Tanzanian project
During our volunteer work in Tanzania we met Vikki Thomas, who has been supporting local pre-primary school Meru View in the remote village of Tengeru outside Arusha.
Vikki is our newest Project Champion, and Meru View is the latest project that we’re supporting.
It was a tragic accident that first led Vikki to Africa as a volunteer nurse. In 1999 she was in a gas bottle explosion while camping on her own in outback Australia. She suffered 67% burns to her face and body, and as a result of later complications she lost her leg.
It was that experience that prompted Vikki to become a nurse, and eventually to use her nursing skills to support some of the poorest communities around the world, including Aboriginal communities in Australia. “I wanted to be able to take my nursing skills into another area where I could help people,” she says.
In 2009 Vikki visited Tanzania and came across Meru View. Meru View caters for 63 of the poorest children in the Tengeru village. Most of the children have lost either a mother or a father, and in some cases both parents, to HIV. Their families live in one or two room houses with dirt floors and no running water or electricity. Unemployment is high – most parents don’t work. For many of the children their school uniform is their only set of clothes. Often there is no food available at home, so they live on nothing more than sweet tea.
Meru View is the only pre-primary school in the area. Its vision is to break the cycle of poverty by giving the poorest children in the village the best start in life through good health and education.
The school had been running for a year when Vikki arrived, and it was immediately apparent that it wouldn’t be able to continue without additional support. “It was desperately floundering,” she says. What was most concerning was the health of the children, who all showed signs of extremely poor nutrition such as infectious diseases, bad teeth and poor skin integrity. Most of them were living on nothing more than sweet tea.
Vikki’s first step was to build the school a website. She then ran a fundraiser and gained UK charity status for the school (she was living in Britain at the time). Since Vikki has been supporting the school, much progress has been made.
The school now has a food program, so all the children receive two meals a day including a vitamin tablet. All the children’s medical needs are taken care of, most commonly including ring worm, chicken pox and scabies. All students are regularly tested for Malaria and provided with treatment if needed. Twice a year, Vikki buys all the children one new outfit each. Without Meru View, most of the kids that attend would not eat, would receive no health care and would have limited chance of moving into Primary School.
The reason Vikki continues to support the school is the kids.
“My favourite thing is the children, because they are so giving and trusting and they absolutely want to be there,” she says.
The children that attend Meru View are people like Paulina.
Paulina is four years old, and has been at Meru View since she was three. When she first arrived at Meru View she was significantly undernourished, lacked energy and was often unwell. After the Head Teacher arranged tests, it was confirmed that she was HIV positive. Her father passed away from disease, she has no grandparents and her mother is unemployed. Without an income, Paulina and her mother have nothing to eat. Paulina has only two sets of clothes, and only one pair of shoes.
Since attending Meru View, life has changed dramatically for Paulina and her mother. Paulina is now on the Government antiviral program for people who are HIV positive. Meru View takes care of all her other health needs, for example providing antibiotics and extra nutritional support when she recently caught a chest infection. Her mother works at Meru View sweeping the grounds, maintaining the fire pit and watering the vegetable garden. The school provides two meals a day for both Paulina and her mother – the only food that either of them will eat all day.
Paulina’s health has improved dramatically – she is now full of energy, and has a smile that would light up the whole world. She can count to 10, name colours, speak some words in English and is learning to read. When Paulina grows up she wants to be a fairy, or a teacher.
Paulina was one of the children that we had the privilege of meeting while we were in Tanzania. What really touched us and inspired us is that despite how little the children like Paulina have, or perhaps because of it, their graciousness and gratitude is astounding.
It’s people like Vikki, and kids like Paulina, that inspire us to keep working for a more just world.
We are currently providing pro-bono support to Vikki and the school to develop a strategic plan, a marketing plan, a fundraising plan and a media strategy. During our time in Tanzania we also helped build a chicken coop and a vegetable garden to provide additional nutrition to the children.
While much progress has been made at Meru View with Vikki’s support, in the past few months Meru View lost a major donor. As a result, the school can no longer afford to provide vitamins to the children with their meals, and the budget for the meals program has been halved, meaning there is less food available for the kids. The school has also been forced to review the numbers of students they can support.
If you would like to get involved, please get in touch! It takes only $26AUD to fund one month of food, education and health care for a child at Meru View.