Education is neither universal nor compulsory. Most people have no choice but the out-of-pocket health care plan. Tanzania is anything but the land of opportunity. At least the kids at Light in Africa have a chance at a fruitful, prosperous life. Often times it is a better chance than those living outside the walls of these children’s homes in the Kilimanjaro Region.


The Kilimanjaro Region, Tanzania’s most populous outside of Dar es Salaam, is home to some 20,000 orphaned children. The idea of immediate family in Sub-Saharan Africa extends beyond the borders of mother, father, son and daughter; the majority of those without surviving parents stay with aunts and uncles, cousins or grandparents. Where this is not financially feasible, where home life has been deemed unsuitable, or where the child has no surviving relatives, they enter life in a children’s home.


The region, like many other populous areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, is still suffering the effects of the AIDS crisis that began to spread here in the mid-1980s. Around a third of the 150 children in Light in Africa’s care are HIV positive. Thanks to the strict antiretroviral treatment made possible by the Global Fund and PEPFAR, most are living normal lives and on the surface seem oblivious to the virus in their bodies.


Nevertheless, life can be a struggle here. HIV positive at ten years of age, Abraham has been through more troubles than one person should see in a lifetime, yet still manages to constantly wear an engaging smile. His parents died of AIDS related illness when Abraham was very young. After being shuffled around between various family members he came to live at a children’s home in the town of Boma Ng’ombe. It folded due to financial difficulty, and he, along with 24 other children living there, came to LIA. At school Abraham’s eyes grew too tired to carry on reading or studying after 45 minutes at a time. It was soon discovered he has cancer of the eyes (though he himself is unaware, thinking it is only allergies). Unable to continue in school but eager to learn, Abraham carries out an independent study program with volunteers at LIA.


There was a thunderstorm and a power outage last week. I thought it would be Abraham’s last night – sweat pouring off him, heart beating like a racehorse. He was visibly in pain. After nursing malaria during the day, his fever climbed to 40 degrees during the night. At this point Mama Lynn drove him to hospital where his condition stabilized.


Things aren’t quite so dramatic in Yohannas’ life (pictured above). At age 11, he’s learning to count and make sense of numbers. Getting from one to five is not a problem. However, if you ask him to count to ten he has trouble even getting to four. Still street savvy, he spent the last two years sleeping on the streets of Moshi and knows how to spend a fifty or hundred shilling piece, making change when necessary. However, since the 50 shilling coin is the smallest unit of currency, it’s difficult for him to get his mind around the fact that the numbers don’t start at 50 or that a 50 shilling piece actually stands for 50 smaller units. When I counted out a pile of 50 small stones, he didn’t believe what 50 looked like and had to get another child to confirm the quantity. Progress is slow.


At Amani Farm, a large 6 acre plot of land owned by Light in Africa in Boma Ng’ombe, things are moving more swiftly. Construction is nearing completion on cement post making facilities. Cement posts, each 9 feet tall, are used to fence property around here, as wooden posts are quickly consumed by termites. LIA currently has a need for 3,000 of them to fence compounds in Boma Ng’ombe and Mererani. Two older boys, Frank (17, above) and Eliazor (19) are the first to learn the trade and have been putting in long hours helping the hired builder, Joshua (below), with the prep work.


The workforce is the only option for these boys. Both of them HIV positive, Frank never took much to education and Eliazor spent much of the last four years ailing at home in his grandmother’s bed without proper nutrition or access to needed ARV drugs. Eliazor came to LIA with a t-cell count of just 0.6, a level so close to death’s door that it’s a miracle he’s now shoveling dirt two years later.


I’ve been spending my days as a foreman and laborer on the cement post project at Amani Farm, at times feeling like a post myself, baking below the scorching sun. The boys will be paid a wage for each post they make. LIA will buy the cement posts for less than they can be purchased in town, but at a price where the boys will still make a healthy profit. Sales and profits will be put into a bank account to buy supplies to make additional posts.


Depending on how many they make in the next year, the boys should have a small trust fund each left over in the bank with which they can set out on their own, no longer dependent on LIA’s help. This is just the first stage of the Amani farm project, a project that is meant to wean these young men off dependency and prepare them for the real world. While most children here will continue on to secondary school and hopefully university, LIA is planning other projects, such as goat and pig farming at Amani Farm, for those that don’t.


Light in Africa is now entering its ninth year of service to orphans in the Kilimanjaro region. As the influx of new and younger children continues, some of the children who began living here during LIA’s infancy are soon approaching the time when they must leave and set out on their own. While preparing these children for self-sufficiency is mostly uncharted territory, it is a challenge that is being met head on today.


Visit Light in Africa‘s website to help in the work being done there. The names of the children mentioned in this entry have been changed for the sake of confidentiality and protection.