Upon researching our upcoming holiday destination, my husband and I learned that Tanzania, Zanzibar included, was one of the poorest countries in the world with an average annual income around $250 U.S. Suffering from a severe shortage of books, an alarming number of the population is illiterate.
With that in mind, before departing the U.S., we loaded a duffel bag with 50 pounds of books and school supplies and upon arrival on the island, sought out to find a local orphanage to make a donation. With help from our hotel, we were directed to SOS Children's Villages outside of Stone Town.
According to the SOS Children's Villages website, the global non-governmental organization's mission is to build families for children in need, help the children to shape their futures and share in the development of their communities. Active in 132 countries and territories, SOS provides shelter, medical services, meals and education to children without parents or families. In Tanzania, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has caused countless children to become orphans in need.
After locating the orphanage and going through tight security, we were escorted into a small building where we met two women: Ms. Asha Salim, facility program director, and Ms. Evelyne Wilson Baniti, kindergarten teacher. With the women welcoming us with warm smiles, we emptied our large, green duffel bag on the table and explained who we were and why we were there.
After the brief introductions, Asha began to tell us about the SOS Children's Villages in Zanzibar and the services it provided. We learned that the organization provides three different types of services for the local community: short-term support such as money for schooling and medical services along with warm meals for those in need; medium-term support which involves mentoring parents; and long-term support by creating a safe living environment, education and social networks for children.
Beginning operations in 1991, the SOS complex we visited provided housing, meals and medical services to more than 1,000 children. It also contained facilities to educate children from kindergarten through secondary school.
Asha and Evelyne invited us to tour the village where we admired brightly painted murals and impeccably clean classrooms. Unfortunately, the school was not in session during our visit due to the New Year's holiday, but we were able to see several students and teachers throughout the village. After we walked through the school and past the playgrounds, the women took us by the community garden. Asha plucked leaves off the trees and made us guess the spice.
After an hour roaming the village grounds, we hugged goodbye, and Asha and Evelyne provided us a parting gift of Tanzanian tea and an envelop of cloves. It was a heart-warming experience to peak deeper inside the Tanzanian culture and be able to contribute to a community in need.