In Mufindi, the epicentre of HIV in Tanzania, the rate of infection is nearly eight times the national average and 40% of children have lost a parent to AIDS. Foxes Community and Wildlife Conservation Trust are bringing light back to the lives of these children and the wider community through a holistic approach.
Foxes Community and Wildlife Conservation Trust, supported in the UK by Orphans In The Wild, operates in the beautiful tea-growing highlands of Mufindi district in Southern Tanzania. I had the great privilege of visiting them when I stayed at Mufindi Lodge and I was so incredibly struck and moved that I vowed to assist the charity as soon as I returned home.
I am happy to report now that I have a client who has supported them with such generosity and, additionally, The Explorations Company have supported them over the last year, too. However their work is complex and ongoing and funds are especially short at the moment, so any donation that you, too, could make would be greatly appreciated and put to the best use.
Geoff and Vicky Fox have lived on their tea-growing estate in Mufindi for over 60 years and witnessed the devastating impact of HIV and AIDS on the local people. In African rural communities there is usually a strong extended-family support system.
If a parent should die or be unable to care for their children, the orphaned children are traditionally taken in by close relatives within the same community. However, Mufindi’s adult population was so impacted by AIDS (37-44% of the population has the virus) that this system broke down and many children who lost parents were alone, facing poverty and hunger.
Geoff and Vicky responded by setting up a refuge for orphans when they created Igoda Children’s Village in 2005, which began with just one small house modelled on the family houses in the village. Since then the charity has grown enormously and it is fabulous to see such a wonderful initiative that makes such a difference to so many people. When I visited I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere of positivity and hope, and how the children are given the chance to have a bright future - something that would not otherwise be possible for them.
There are now six houses providing shelter and a family setting to a total of 62 children aged from newborn to 17 years old. The houses are bright and colourful and each house has a ‘House Mama’ to care for the children, give them nurture, and create a happy community that echoes village life.
In order to provide the best possible start for the children at Igoda Children’s Village there is also an on-site medical clinic, a kindergarten and nursery for the younger children, and a vocational school project for older children. Volunteers come to lend their skills and knowledge – no staff except for locals are paid, allowing 99% of donations to go directly into improving lives:
Although schooling is free in Tanzania, many children impacted by the disease cannot even afford the cost of uniform, paper and pens. Children must walk long distances to school on difficult muddy roads and, in families impacted by AIDS, often do not have the support to do so.
The local population is still being decimated by HIV and AIDS; life expectancy is just 43 years and adults earn on average less than a dollar per day. Foxes’ NGO know that the situation will not improve for the children they care for until the local community as a whole can start to recover and provide secure and loving homes to the children.
The ultimate aim for the children cared for at the Children’s Village is for them to return to their home villages and live with their extended family. However much work needs to be done, so they have invested in community healthcare and education:
There is much stigma associated with HIV and AIDS, which historically impacted on local people getting tested and therefore receiving a diagnosis and medical assistance. Despite anti-retroviral drugs now being funded by the Government, many could still not access them. There was no local testing facilities and the village is two- to three-hours' drive from the nearest hospital and two- to three-hours' walk to a village dispensary to collect medicines.
To help overcome practical difficulties and the stigma surrounded in accessing healthcare for HIV/AIDS, Foxes’ NGO have set up a series of essential measures that are making such a phenomenal difference to the communities in their area:
With access to good healthcare advice, testing and medical treatment, local people with HIV can continue to live healthy lives despite being infected with the virus. They can continue to work, provide for their children and care for them. Now, over 5000 people are attending the clinic for testing and healthcare each month and this number is increasing all the time.
The Foxes charity has supported the wider community to help itself as a part of a basket and rush-mat making co-operative. Many women who have HIV and AIDS are too unwell to work, or the people who care for them cannot work due to the burden of care. This initiative allows them to become financially independent and provide for themselves and their children.
The women collect reeds from riverbeds and dye them. Each woman has her own unique style and can weave the baskets in her spare time when she is not tending to crops or caring for her children. The charity assists them to find a market for the baskets through tourist visitors, local markets and in a craft shop in Dar Es Salaam.
The income from the cooperative pays for school uniforms for their children, books and healthcare.
Please do include a visit to Mufindi and the Foxes Community and Wildlife Conservation Trust as a part of your safari to Tanzania. You can lend your skills as a part of your visit, such as helping the school with lesson planning, telling a story to the children or helping them with their homework. You could run or take part in outdoor activities with the children, or assist in planting and tending to vegetables in their greenhouse.
Additionally any donation you can make, large or small, would be greatly appreciated. Funds, especially now, are worryingly thin on the ground, as they are for many charities. I can say that everyone involved with Foxes' NGO and Orphans In The Wild are enterprising and hard-working, as well as deeply compassionate. Any amount would help to make an incredibly positive impact, not just to the orphaned children currently cared for but also on the wider health and wellbeing of the community, so that in the future fewer children will suffer the devastating effects of HIV and AIDS in their communities and families.
Please do feel free to get in touch with me for any more information or to make a donation. Or, if you would like to learn more about the various charities that The Explorations Company supports, whether elsewhere in Africa or in Asia, you can do so in our Philanthropy Handbook.
Images by kind courtesy of Foxes Community and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Aimi Duong Gallego