Connecticut-Based Non-Profit to Build a Children's Village in Tanzania

Mar 26, 2014

Bekka Ross Russsell of The Small Things with children.
Credit The Small Things

A Connecticut-based non-profit has received a major grant to start construction on a village for orphaned children in Tanzania. The Small Things, based in East Haven and Africa, partners with the Nkoaranga Orphanage, which cares for youngsters from birth to five years old.

"At the end of the day, family is what these kids have lost, and family is really what they need to get back."
Bekka Ross Russell

When they age out of the orphanage, some kids are able to move in with family members or live in foster homes, but most are sent away to boarding schools.

Speaking from Tanzania, executive director Bekka Ross Russell said that does not always work out well. "If they don’t have anyone who’s willing and able to take them -- the majority of the children we work with don’t -- they need another solution," she said. "We’re creating a children’s village. We’ve seen this model in a bunch of other places. It's been very successful."

In its first phase, The Small Things plans to build family-style homes where up to 40 kids could live until they’re 18 years old. The homes will be staffed by what are known in Tanzania as "mamas."

The project is being supported by Happy Family organic food company and its CEO, Shazi Visram. "My father was born and raised in Tanzania," she said. "Actually, when I started the business almost ten years ago, I wanted to do something to also give back."

Most of the children end up at the orphanage after losing their mothers in childbirth. Others have been abandoned.

Ross Russell said it's important to remember that despite facing tragedy early in life, these are normal kids who just need a chance. "It's very easy to look at the pictures, and think of them as being almost a whole different species, almost poverty porn," she said. "It's very voyeuristic. 'Look at these poor, starving children.' That’s not how it is on the ground. These are happy, healthy kids. At the end of the day, family is what these kids have lost, and family is really what they need to get back."

The project’s long-term goal is for the village to house up to 100 children.