Barry Child’s Personal Story

My father worked for the British government in Tanzania as an
Agricultural Officer. Every 3 years he was required to take 6 months
leave outside of the tropics. At the start of one of those leaves, in
1950, I was 6 years old, and we were sailing to the UK on cargo ship.
We docked in Port Said, on the Suez Canal. On the dockside the
heat was oppressive and the air smelt of rotten fruit. A small Egyptian
boy dressed in ragged clothes approached. His arms reached out
and in broken English he said, “No mother. No father. No curry. No
rice. Poor little orphan child”. I was transfixed; I wanted to help but I
did not know what to do. I turned to my father; he gave me a coin
which I gave to the boy. The incident left me feeling empty. A gap I
did not begin to fill until later in life.
I went on to have a rewarding career with Exxon and Abbott
Laboratories. In the spring of 1998, I was participating in a public
leadership conference downtown Chicago. Four young African
American men in my group approached me at the end of the first day
and said, “Barry, when you talk to us about your corporate leadership
experiences, it’s boring, but when you talk to us about Africa, we are
inspired.” I was perplexed. I had no recollection of what I had said to
them about Africa. I had not been back to Tanzania since 1962. The
next day a young woman approached me and said. “Mr. Childs, I
heard that you are from Tanzania and work in the healthcare sector. I
have just returned from working at a small hospital just outside
Arusha in Northern Tanzania. They desperately need hospital
equipment. Can you help?”
These conversations kept me awake at night, I had to take action. I
started acquiring hospital laboratory equipment for the Selian
Lutheran Hospital. In December 1998 I was back in Tanzania for 9
days. The people were still welcoming and the country beautiful.
However, the population had grown 5-fold using outdated
subsistence farming techniques. Poverty was prevalent and HIV/AIDS was rife. In particular I became aware of the impact this
had on children. One morning, I awoke before dawn and I wrote in my
journal, “I am going to do something”. When I returned to the States, I
decided to retire early and start Africa Bridge. Tanzania had given me
a unique childhood, I needed to do something for the vulnerable
children of Tanzania.
I have lived in 7 countries on 3 continents, encountering many
different cultures. My career enabled me to gain experiences in sales,
marketing, IT, HR, operations, leadership development and Total
Quality Management on district, national and international levels.
Each of these work and cultural transitions taught me something. In
2000 at the age 55, I had been equipped with a rich arsenal of skills
and experiences that helped me to found Africa Bridge. The listening
I learned to do in the early years ensured I understood the context
within which we were working and to find a path that is effective.
When I set up my first home office, I made a small altar in one corner.
It is here, I give thanks. Establishing and running a project in a
remote area of a developing country 5,000 miles away is challenging.
In the early 2000’s in Southeast Tanzania, there was some internet,
no cellular services, and banking was limited. It was not easy. I made
mistakes and I experienced numerous hardships and
disappointments. When my wife Hazel, my soulmate and rock died of
ALS. I did not think I had the strength to endure. However, I learned
that we do not know what our strengths and capabilities are until we
are faced with adversity. Africa Bridge has given me a purpose in my
later life. It has helped me to grow spiritually and intellectually.
Children are every society’s most precious commodity. They are our future. I have had the privilege to serve thousands of vulnerable children, I have met incredible people and been humbled by their generosity, and I have reconnected with my homeland.