Between the recent history of the Rwandan genocide and the war in Uganda there were many displaced children that Raza, the founder of Izaas, encountered coming to his program for the disabled. Some of them were orphans and all of them were very needy, but not always in the same capacity that he was used to helping.However, if a child came and the need was great, he began to assist in whatever way possible.
Tanzania is famous in East Africa for its peaceful history.Other regional countries look to it as an example; this is one of the reasons that there are many refugees here. There were many displaced and vulnerable children in Bukoba due to the wars in neighboring countries and the city’s proximity to the Ugandan and Rwandan boarder. Raza was like a father figure for these children and he helped them either locate their families or funded transportation to a city where they had relatives.Sometimes he even housed them himself.
Raza now has a very basic house with bunk beds and a room for cooking where only children in extreme need are housed. Even children who are not orphans come to him for help.They may need assistance with school fees, may have been abused (not very common here in TZ), or may have parents infected with HIV/AIDS (VERY common here in TZ).
The orphan program is now what can best be described as a drop in center for vulnerable children. There is a large classroom-type setting with desks and a chalkboard and there is a teacher who comes every afternoon (Raza pays the salary) that helps them catch up on their lessons, gives them some moral coaching, and gives them a safe and reliable environment to meet at every day. Some of them have parents who have died from HIV and AIDS, some of them have one parent alive, some of their parents have left or been killed by accidents or infections or any number of reasons.
It is therefore difficult for the families to send all of the children to school. Most of these children are years behind because they had to drop out due to lack of funding. It costs about 200-300 dollars to send one of these children to school for the entire year, depending on if it is primary or secondary education. This includes school fees and the cost of the uniform, as well as books. (I remember spending that on a pair of high heeled shoes that I have only worn twice!) Often if there is a child who seems very promising and is dedicated to their studies Raza will try to find a way to fund their schooling so that they can continue after primary school. Sadly the opposite is true for those who do not show the same promise. Can you imagine how many people you know who would have had their education taken away from them if they had not shown much promise by grade one?
I was privy to a discussion about 3 of the boys who are extreme cases and housed in the orphanage, Hussein, Abdullah and Hamza. I spent the entire day with them and Matthew, another Izaas volunteer and employee of the World Food Program posted in Uganda.Like Matthew I fell in love with the boys.Over dinner, Matthew was talking to Raza and Mama (Raza’s wife) about these boys and they seemed to have decided that Hussein is not very smart and they will not be able to continue to send him to school. He looks to be about 10 years old and the others are around 8. Matthew, who has taken special interest in these boys, insisted and then offered to personally pay for their schooling if it would be possible to organize the enrollment. He has about 8 children enrolled in school currently! He agreed to transport them to wherever they could be enrolled. Martin, his driver for our trip from Kampala to Bukoba, a silent observer to all of our activities up until that point, said that he would help the boys by finding somewhere for them to live in Kampala so that they could attend a good school there. That gesture touched me so deeply that I almost cried, right there at the dinner table. This is how people are here. They will put themselves out to help someone in need.If they can do anything at all they will do it. It is beautiful.
There were about 60 orphans at the drop in center today. I can only imagine what is in store for them, hundreds have been helped and hundreds have not. I asked them to sing a song for me and taped it. They LOVE being in pictures and on camera and are so used to digital photography that they ask to see the photo right away!