Building Bridges for Children – Part 3 – Barry Childs

Children who live in households experiencing extreme poverty survive on one meal a day, receive little education, and have 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.  This increases family incomes up to five-fold, giving the heads of households 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.

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

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

There are no street children in a village. All children live with a family.

There are no street children in rural villages.

It took me a while to realize that in Tanzania, street children were only a phenomenon in cities and large towns. There are no street children in rural villages. When I first started working in the village of Idweli in 2002 we decided to build an orphanage for vulnerable children. The children did very well at the Children Center. The children were well fed, received healthcare and their academic results improved. However, the Center divided the community. There was only enough space for about a third of the children who needed to be housed there. Furthermore, the community could not support the upkeep of the Center, making them dependent on outside funding.

I came to realize that the issue to be solved was not finding homes for most vulnerable children. These children already had homes in the community. The issue was the income of the families housing vulnerable children. Most of these families were living in extreme poverty. Their income was under $2 per day. They could not afford to feed, clothe, educate and provide healthcare for the entire family.

Villagers have an innate understanding of agriculture.

Life in a village is dependent on agricultural activities. Most of the small plots of land support a mix of different crops grown at a subsistence level with perhaps a few chickens, a goat or even a cow. Some land is devoted to a specific cash crop such as potatoes, corn or beans. However even these crops have very low yields per acre and are vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather, diseases and fluctuating market prices.

The Africa Bridge coop program recognizes the strong social structures and relationships within the community and strives to expand and leverage them. With this realization Africa Bridge started income generating co-operatives. These cooperatives have enabled villagers to raise their incomes and the to transform the lives of the children in their care and themselves.

An example: A typical Tanzanian cow purchased in the village costing about $50 will yield about one to two quarts of milk per day. However, a high-grade cow costs $200 to $400 and with good dairy management can yield 10 to 30 quarts per day. Africa Bridge coops provide high-grade cows, so families can move beyond subsistence farming, to being able to sell their outputs for a profit. This access to knowledge, a support system within the co-op and capital dramatically increases family incomes transforming the wellbeing of the children.

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