Barry’s Building Bridges for Children -1


Tanzanian children who live in households experiencing extreme poverty survive on one meal a day, receive little education, and virtually no access to healthcare. It does not have to be this way.

Africa Bridge combines a volunteer psychosocial support initiative with a unique form of income generating co-operative that increases family incomes two to five-fold.  This gives heads of households the choices to transform the wellbeing of the children in their care.

What makes the Africa Bridge model sustainable and unique are the following critical elements:

I         Creating and maintaining an unwavering focus on the most vulnerable children.

II        A contractual transfer of activities to local leaders within 5 years.

II        Building on the inherent strengths and characteristics of small rural communities.

IV       The sustainable and generative nature of the co-ops.

I         Creating and maintaining an unwavering focus on the most vulnerable children.

When starting work in a new community, Africa Bridge’s first activity is to meet with children ranging in age from 10 to 22 years. These three-day Future Search meetings give the children the opportunity to explain their understanding of the reasons for their predicament, their current realities, and their dreams for the future.

Text Box: Sabina, Age 17, Lutete Village: “I have not been in school for five years. My parents cannot afford the fees, a school uniform and nor the books. There are many children at home. I am lonely.”

This is an opportunity for us to listen to and to understand the context within which the children live. It is a sobering experience. I remember at the first of these meeting in 2002 I was talking with a Gloria from Idweli who was obviously suffering from malnutrition. She had a pot belly and a reddening of her hair. I asked her what she wanted most in her life. Bearing in mind her circumstances and condition, I expected her to ask for food. She did not. She looked me in the eyes and said “I want to go to school”. I will never forget that child. Children living in extreme poverty mature early and have a clear vison of what they need most in life.

Text Box: Joel, Age 13, Mpuga Village: “The most important thing is health and the lack of clinics in our village. When I grow up, I want to be a doctor, and heal my community and help my country.”

After the children’s meeting we meet with  

community leaders and representatives from the children’s meetings, for another three days. The children and adults agree on priorities, develop a 5-year action plan, and form a Steering Committee along with a Most Vulnerable Children’s Committee (MVVC) for each village. The Steering Committee includes children and local government officials and it guides the 5-year plan for the group of villages. The Most Vulnerable Children’s Committees identify families caring for most vulnerable children; provide psychosocial and paralegal support; and continually monitor the wellbeing of the children.

This focus on children engages the whole community and in particular women. Women understand that the Africa Bridge program is giving them choices to be able to care for their children. Women living in extreme poverty do not have the financial resources to feed their children adequately, provide an education or healthcare. Women are a key factor in the sustainability the AB model. Women ensure that the community builds a bridge for their children’s future.

Furthermore, the unwavering focus on the wellbeing of children unites and integrates whole community around its most critical asset, the future of their children.

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