We have come a long way since March, 2008, when ICA Tanzania project coordinator Charles Luoga took Canadian volunteer Lynn Connell to visit 52 little kids squeezed into the dark and leaking, mud-floored foyer of someone’s house, which was set up as a makeshift daycare. It was an orphanage of sorts, but in such terrible condition it had been refused official orphanage status. They had no furniture, no books or resources except for one teacher offering his time voluntarily, and a few neighbor women who came by to cook lunch – in most cases the only food the children would receive all day.
The old “orphanage”
The conditions were deplorable. 52 little children squeezed onto the floor of a tiny dark, dingy room with one small window, yet they were happy to see us, thrilled that someone out there cared enough even to visit!
These were the poorest of the poor kids in the district of Majengo, an agricultural community just outside the rural village of Mto Wa Mbu, Arusha, Tanzania. Back then, they were as young as 3, with none old enough for primary school. Many had been found roaming from house to house, their parents lost to HIV/AIDS, relatives and friends off at work – most, without a home.
The ten children in the above photo had lost everything. Without parents, family, relatives or neighbours to take care of them at night, they slept in a small, dark room just off the foyer, with two beds – boys in one, the girls in the other - lying width-wise in a row. For over a year, this was their home – a situation completely incomprehensible to most of us.
Connell and Luoga found a half-built house down the road, and committed themselves to starting an orphanage for these children. Connell went back to Canada and raised enough money to renovate and refurbish the house.
The dining room area, before we finished rebuilding the house.
One year later, in March 2009, 27 children moved into their beautiful new home, with new beds, sheets, towels, an outdoor kitchen, showers, toilets and playground and an on-site pre-school for the children under age 7. The older kids attend local primary schools in the area, and, wonderfully, our Majengo children crowd the top ten spots in every class. A great success!
Here are the kids eating in the new, redone dining area. What a difference!
We hired a staff of 12 local people, most of whom had cared for the children with no pay for that entire first year: cooks, cleaners, teachers, as well as a matron, secretary, treasurer and night watchman.
Enter Matt McKissock, from Warren, Pennsylvania.
We opened officially in March, 2009, as Matt McKissock and Ian Ashbaugh from Pennsylvania flew into Tanzania to see for themselves the terrible conditions Connell had described in her fundraising efforts. After returning to the US, they formed the Warren Majengo Foundation, with IRS charitable status and a promise that the McKissock family and friends would completely take over Majengo Orphanage operating expenses for one year. It was a miracle.
For insight into what inspired Matt, please click to download
MATT McKISSOCK’S LETTER
By 2010, we welcomed another 15 children into our pre-school, chosen by local leaders as the poorest and most vulnerable in the community. We visit Majengo at least twice a year, working hands-on with the local NGO, ICA Tanzania, coordinating the children’s day-to-day activities and meticulously checking budgets.
Things were running smoothly; so far so good….
The Government Requests Majengo’s Help: the 2010 Expansion
In September, 2010, the Monduli District government made a decision to shut down all the corrupt orphanages set up to make money along the safari route running through town. The children were kept sick, poor and ill-fed, jammed into intolerable, dirty quarters without medical attention. Tourists were brought in by safari drivers, who were paid a percentage of the take from each visit – with directors pocketing a small fortune.
In late December, 2010, the government swept in and shut down 5 orphanages, bringing 67 children over to Majengo, thus recognizing the Majengo Orphanage as the only official government-approved orphanage in the district.
Our staff were thrown into a state! The children came with nothing…no clothing, shoes, or belongings. With over 100 mouths to feed at each meal, three times a day, we had no idea how much food to buy. Our staff worked around the clock washing kids and clothing, cooking and feeding. Children who had been eating garbage off the street, stampeded the kitchen, desperate for good food, coming back for seconds and thirds. The first time they were served chicken, they thought we were poisoning them, having never tasted meat before!
McKissock and Connell flew over a few weeks later, somewhat terrified of what they would find. From a calm and manageable situation, Majengo now had 50 new kids to look after, doubling our numbers. But amazingly, after such a short time, the staff had taken control. McKissock and Connell found the staff sitting under the shade of a big old tree, laughing and talking amongst themselves, the children resting in bed taking their afternoon nap!
Majengo today: April 2013
Today, the Majengo Orphanage fully supports the basic needs of 134 children, between the ages of 3 and 16, with food, housing, medical, needs, education and clothing. Currently, 77 children live inside the orphanage, and 37 live out with relatives and friends, spending every day at Majengo.
The Majengo staff consists of 18 local people, most of whom have cared for the children from the beginning. Our staff are chosen to be honest, capable and committed to their jobs. They love the children as their own!
Our commitment is to provide the children the opportunity to grow in a safe, healthy, loving home, and to provide education for each child as needed from pre-school through university.