Two orphans being cared for thanks to Mama Mkubwa
A group of orphans gathers to play and receive counselling
Some young orphans become caregivers to their younger siblings
Simple games and play times are important for the Mama Mkubwa orphans
Salvation Army personnel make sure the children in the programme are receiving good care
Duncan Parker is Projects Coordinator for the Overseas Projects Office of The Salvation Army's UK Territory
UK/Tanzania: Big Mother is Watching You
by Duncan Parker
‘Mama Mkubwa’, Kiswahili for ‘Big Mother’, is a project developed by The Salvation Army’s Tanzania Command to provide an answer to the growing issue of Aids orphans being left uncared for in communities.
In Tanzania, the Aids issue is not quite at pandemic stage. Even so, it seems that everyone knows someone who has died or will die of Aids. The disease is destroying family and community life, robbing a society of skills, potential, health and prosperity.
In its wake, Aids leaves a trail of destruction. In Tanzania alone it is estimated that over 400,000 adults have died and a million adults are living with Aids. With these kind of numbers increasing everyday, it is not hard to imagine the number of children that will be left without parents who can love and care for them.
In the past, organisations have built homes, school and centres to care for children who have been orphaned. However, the number of children that are being orphaned by Aids now and in future years is far too numerous for this to be a sensible solution or a viable option anymore.
Instead, the Tanzania Command is developing the innovative concept which they have called Mama Mkubwa. It is a programme to educates and provide resources so that communities can look after their own children, even when no immediate family are left.
In partnership with leaders from the Masai Camp in Zimbabwe, Salvation Army corps officers, community leaders, community members and teachers were brought together to spend a week of training and learning about the new programme. A hundred children also attended the seminar so the leaders could try out their new-found skills with them, playing games with and providing counselling.
These first programme managers then went back to their own communities to identify children there who have been orphaned and are at risk. Through these pioneers, the programme then helps resource the community and continues to provide support and training so that the Mama Mkubwa programme can continue to run.
The children are placed with a volunteer family which receives resources to help care for the child and bring them up. A family liaison officer makes sure the children receive an education, good food, clothes, and health care to an acceptable standard.
The help does not end there though. Once or twice a week, the children in the Mama Mkubwa programme gather together to spend a couple of hours playing and interacting with each other. This time is also used to allow them to have counselling and receive spiritual guidance from the village Mama Mkubwa team. These times together have proved immensely beneficial, giving the children an outlet for their emotions and for open sharing.
Joseph Michael is one of the children in the programme. Joseph is just 14 years old but since an early age he has been responsible for the upbringing of his younger sisters. His father was an alcoholic who drank heavily most evenings and often brought home women from the bars.
Eventually, Joseph’s mother left and Joseph became the main caregiver for his siblings. Joseph’s father married one of the women from the bar but quickly became ill with lesions all over his body and was eventually diagnosed with TB – Joseph was not informed of any other diseases found. However, the TB medicine did not have any impact and his father died.
Joseph tried to contact his mother at her families’ home only to find that she too had died of an unknown illness.
In desperation, he travelled from his rural home and ended up in the Machimbo area where he hoped to find a relative who would help him with school fees. He was unable to do so but was identified by a Mama Mkubwa community as a child at risk. They embraced him into the project and through collections made by the local community members, they were able to rent a room and give him a small piece of land to engage in income generating agricultural activities.
The Mama Mkubwa programme is also giving Joseph the counselling and advice he requires through a woman who is responsible for his care. Joseph, despite the tough start to his life, remains optimistic but worries for his sisters’ well-being. He hopes to go and collect his sisters so that they can share in his new life.
Joseph is now also attending a Salvation Army church and is involved with various community programmes.
Another part of the programme seeks to ensure that orphans are reunited with the mature members of their extended family and receive their basic needs from them rather than having to be place in institutional care.
At the time of writing, 37 children had been reunited with their families in the first six months of the programme. This has been done with the full support of local Salvationists and community leaders who continue to check on the child’s welfare after they go to live with their relations.
All families who take in children are given regular follow-up visits to make sure that all is going well. Income-generating schemes are also being looked at and groups of families are gathering together to see how they can bring in extra income to help cover the costs of looking after a new family member. The idea of providing micro-credit loans to these groups is being looked at.
The Mama Mkubwa project began in March 2002, initially in 18 Salvation Army corps and communities. It was anticipated that around 100 children would be helped by the initial programme but when the trained Mama Mkubwa staff returned home they reported over 644 children in those 18 communities alone who required the support of the programme.
A recent report focuses on the success of the different activities implemented by the project. These include psychosocial support, family reunification, home and follow up visits, capacity building, project management and income generating activity. The programme is proving so successful that it is expanding to other regions both in a structured way and organically, as people hear of the scheme’s success.
The project is already having a huge impact on 650 vulnerable children’s lives and in the lives of the community members, teachers and leaders who are involved in the programme. People’s minds are being changed, particularly their perceptions of HIV/Aids, in a way that can make a major difference in many communities in the future.
The challenge is that The Salvation Army in Tanzania works in more than 70 communities. The Aids pandemic has consequences which could be disastrous for the future stability and capacity of countries where it has already taken a stranglehold. Mama Mkubwa is leading the way in finding appropriate and sustainable solutions to part of the issue and many people praise God that Big Mother is watching over her children.