Orphans and Bibis

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Most of the last two busy months have been occupied by visiting orphan children and their caregiversnear Kilema hospital, in villages with names like Rosho, Lasso, Legho, Mrumeni, Kimamoroni, Kiraracha and Mkyashi.I am beginning to know where all the villages are and how to get there (even by myself at times) on red dirt roads that eventually dwindle into narrow footpaths.Here we jest, “this is not a road,” and keep on driving.As the rains have progressed the red clay surface becomes slick and little rivulets further the erosion process.

Every family has a story to tell about how they live, the family members who provide support, the productivity of the shamba, the number of animals which are a sign of wealth and sustain families with milk, eggs and meat.There are also discussions about those who have died, those who have run away, those who have been tested and who still needs to be.It often seems that a grandmother or mother is telling the story and that she has been there to catch those that remain after the losses.

Part of my work here has been to document some of the stories I come across for CACHA and for Dr. Nyaki, aclinical officer in theHIVCenterand formidable woman.I include a few stories here.

I. and J.

A short ride down the mountain from Kilema hospital to the village turnoff followed by a sharp climb uphill to the west and eventually we arrive at the home of two orphan girls sponsored byKilema orphan program.  I. and J.are step sisters with ten years between them, daughters of the same mother that died in 2005 of HIV/AIDS.Their fathers are different men but both also passed away from the same treacherous disease that has infected 1 in 9 Tanzanians, perhaps a greater percent in this region according to local statistics.Irene is two years old and HIV positive and has not been seen at the CTC for regular follow-up.As the coordinator, Denis firmly encourages Bibi M. to come to the HIV center for assessment, I look around at the impoverished circumstances and a host of barriers to regular attendance at the distant clinic come to mind.

Bibi M. is a stern grandmother, with deep frown lines converging between her brow and a tight, fine lipped mouth set rigidly as though she has seen it all before. She has circles under her eyes and below the skin sags a bit so that her look is blend of exhaustion and unhappiness.She is slight enough that I check her closely for signs of illness but realize that hard unrelenting work is the cause of her wiry frame, not illness.In fact I feel grateful for her fitness as the children she is in charge of line up in front of us for greetings, five in all.Only two of these children are sponsored by the program but Bibi is struggling with the care of another three children, a 13 year old boy named N. with bright intelligent eyes and broad smile, 11 year old M. and 6 year old M., all children of another mother, perhaps her daughter, who can’t feed them we are told.

We are greeted warmly as is the custom everywhere and very low stools, just inches off the ground, are brought from a pole and mud house that slants dangerously away from us.The slant is so profound that the door of the house no longer opens or closes and one has to enter sideways holding the frame to keep from falling into the house. Later I enter to see the most difficult interior to date. There are no beds, only two eroded mattresses on the uneven dirt floor.There is a jumble of bedding and stray clothes lying about.Cooking has been done inside the house with the traditional three flat stones.The fire has caused the partial burning of a dividing wall and Bibi is urged never to have a fire inside the house for fear of burning it down all together.A fire took the lives of two children in a village near Kilema just yesterday.Light filters through the cracks in the rear mud wall and it is clear to see from inside that this house is in its final days.

Up the slope from I. and J.’s house the neighbour has levelled a piece of property with lava rock and in their renovating zeal have allowed volumes of lava rock to cascaded down toward the mud house below, destabilizing it.The dump of lava rock collects half way up the side of Bibi’s hut.It seems a shocking disregard for the less fortunate neighbour and we resolves to contact the village leader to discuss what happened here and advocate on Bibi’s behalf for compensation if possible. Whatever the outcome, this woman is in need of a new house.

The family was left with food, clothing and a blanket at this home visit and everyone was pleased to see Bibi M., I., J. and N. at the HIVCenter the following morning for I’s HIV followup.Some two days later all the children came again to Kilema for the Cacha orphan day.Again three days later Bibi came to the hospital for other needs, clothing and shoes.Home visits consistently seem to be an effective way to assess the home conditions of orphan children and also to motivate caregivers and children to come in for services and build bridges with the orphan program.

On November 27th the Cacha team visited the home again with a local contractor, Mr. Mkundi, in order to take measurements and discuss options for providing M. and her family safe and secure housing.Two mosquito nets, a new mattress and bedding were provided.


The CACHA team approach the Kilawe shamba calling “Hodi”, an announcement of our arrival which is followed by the customary welcome, “Karibu, karibusana.”S.’s elderly grandmother gives us a vigorous welcome, complete with an embrace, and guides us nearer to her pole and mud house, pulling out small stools and benches for seating.She is the caregiver of orphan grandsons, S. (16 yrs) and A. (12yrs) whose parents both died of AIDS in 2005.We discover Bibi and Babu are also caring for another abandoned child, I., who knows only her first name and had taken on the family surnames when she came to live with them.

Both grandparents are old and fortunately the Bibi appears robust while Babu seems quiet and distracted.Their living quarters are divided between two pole and mud houses, one larger that the other.When the Cacha team enters the first dark interior it is to see a single bed and eroded mattress which sleeps Bibi, I. and S.’s brother A.The single bed in the second smaller and dilapidated hut sleeps Babu and husky S., the tallest orphan in the program. S. has written, humorously, above the front door, “I want fresh air.” Joining this hut is the goat stable.

Sitting to begin the assessment are our team, the grandparents and another daughter here from Dares salaam with five children, one markedly disabled.  S. and A. are both in good health, they report, and we concur having seen both boys at the last two orphan days.  Both boys were weighed and measured and seen by medical staff.They appeared physically well. S. participated in the soccer games on these days but was also seen to hang back from the group, perhaps feeling too old to be there or somewhat shy, perhaps discontented.The counselor present on this home visit was reminded that a fellow of S.’s age does need testing to confirm his HIV status and counseling to remain negative.Grandparents gave permission for testing to occur at the next orphan day.

Sadly we hear that both S. and A. have been sent home from school this week because secondary school fees have not been paid and there is no money.Looking around the shamba, one wonders what opportunities will be available to S. and his brother without school. Most of the family income comes from bananas grown on their small plot. Cacha’s aim is to encourage education, mentoring and vocational training, so the boys have been given secondary school funding for the new school year starting January 2008.School shoes were provided to Simon who was sent home from school because he didn’t have proper ones.

On November 21 the family was provided with two new mattresses and two mosquito nets, a step toward having all orphans in the Cacha program sleeping under mosquito netting by February 1,2008

Kilema Support Fund

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the fund over the last few months and who together helped to bring it to a total of $7000.There are many ways and many good ways one can see to allocate money here and we have been fortunate to have time to look closely at some of the persistent needs.Below is a short list of common needs in a community where, for most people, money is scarce.

1. Secondary school sponsorship – between $80 and $250 per school year.Critical to keep children in school and for vulnerable children it is the only social safety net.

2. Primary school sponsorship- primary education is technically free but many ‘hidden costs’: uniform, food fees, cooks fees etc.

3. Income generating projects – individuals and groups are desperate to create an income source through a small enterprises for example:

·Goat husbandry


·Sewing projects

4. Provision of basic needs remains out of reach for many.

  • Mattress
  • Blankets
  • Shoes/ clothing
  • School supplies: pencil notebook
  • Mosquito nets- goal is to have all 110 orphans and family members under a net by end of February 1/08.
  • Roofing sheets ( corrugated metal)
  • Roof repair supplies –tar and filling material
  • Food- many families can not meet basic nutritional needs without help, especially critical for members on HIV treatment.
  • House repairs/rebuild

After a 2 month assessment period it has been a delight to tap into the Kilema Support Fund for recent purchases of :

mattresses (20) @ 23,000TSH each

mosquito nets (110) @ 3,600TSH each

blankets (20) @5,000TSH

sheets 20), @ 3,500TSH

and a pair of school shoes for S. who was asked to leave school because he had none. 1 pair @ 7,500TSH

The exchange rate  here  is a mathematical pleasure.1,200 TSH = $1.00 CAN

Wednesday was one of the most remarkable days on the job.I joked with my Tanzanian colleague, Denis, that he made more Bibis cry today than ever.The arrival of a mattress, bedding and mosquito nets reduced these stoic, resilient women quite frankly to tears.Some fought it but could not contain it and when one showed us the rustic bed she shares with her granddaughter she covered her eyes and it was only moments later we realized it was for upset, not embarrassment.It wasn’t our intention but we had the same effect on one after the other, after the other, as the supplies was delivered.Mattresses are such a common need, almost universal, yet for a family to part with 23,000 TSH for one, with all the other competing needs, food being primary, we see that people just get by without.Many years of getting by, two, three four, five in a bed with eroded foam in pieces or no cushioning on the wooden frame.While some of the responses today were emotional all were grateful and gracious.Thanks again to all our contributors.



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