Our Kids

Nkoaranga Orphanage Overview
The absolute maximum capacity for Nkoaranga orphanage is 30 kids, and through my time here, we’ve run from a low of 22 kids (right after a large cohort departed for boarding school) and 29 (during Christmas vacation when we had an extra little guy on his school break). New babies come in frequently, generally directly from the hospital where their mothers have passed, occasionally brought in by extended family that has taken care of them for a few weeks or months but have reached their limits. Nkoaranga orphanage consists of a kids’ dormitory, a babies’ dormitory, shelves and shelves of shared clothing (nothing is individually owned), a kitchen, and the central room that serves as a classroom, feeding center, playroom, and everything else. It is run through the Lutheran Nkoaranga hospital, and is situated on its property.
Nkoaranga orphanage runs through the constant work of between two and four “mamas” at any given time, all of whom are chronically overworked and underpaid. Mama Pendo, who has been running the orphanage for 22 years, is the head mama and the heart and soul of the place. However, their attention is essentially utterly consumed by the incredible amount of work it takes to do the laundry, the cooking, boiling the water, changing the diapers, on and on forever – and their ability to interact with the kids is consequently pretty seriously limited. For social and emotional interaction, it’s pretty much all down to the volunteers. Some of the kids have long term medical issues from poor maternal nutrition, premature birth or early neglect, in addition to frequent illness due simply to living with over twenty other children. That said, these are for the most part remarkably happy, sweet, healthy, adorable kids. 

Here are a small selection of the children’s stories, to give some taste of the different ways the kids ended up at Nkoaranga orphanage. Many of the children’s mothers passed away from a combination of disease (HIV, malaria, or an acute illness) in combination with the stress of childbirth. However, some came to the orphanage through different paths.

We share these in the hopes of expanding understanding of the need, not provoking pity – these children are beautifully cared for and the decision to move children to an orphanage is always heartbreaking for surviving family, but often selfless and altruistic.

For more about these kids or any others, click their names in the sidebar to pull up all posts where they are mentioned.

Ericki came to Nkoaranga orphanage at age two. His mother had died when he was born, but he had lived for the first two years of his life with his father, grandmother, and older siblings, in a tiny hut. When he reached two, they realized that he was malnourished and they could not continue to care for all of the children. Ericki, as the youngest, was brought to the orphanage in the hopes of giving him a better life. However, it was very traumatic for him to leave the only home he ever knew, and while his extended family continues to visit, he often refuses to speak to them, saying only, “Hapendi,” or “they don’t love me,” although it is clear that they do. He is a smart, sweet, and affectionate child, and he blossoms with praise or attention, although he is always afraid he will do something to lose the love he is given, and struggles when he feels he has disappointed anyone. We are currently trying to raise the money to fund Ericki’s entry to boarding school. 
Zawadi and Pendo
In front of the hut Pendo grew up in
Zawadi and Pendo are sisters whose mother died in mysterious circumstances when Zawadi was around a month old – domestic violence is suspected. The mother’s family took in Pendo, who was two and a half, but Zawadi was brought to the orphanage. She doesn’t even have a birthday, since all they know is that she was likely born sometime in November. When I arrived, she was twelve months but less than five kilos, or only slightly larger than a newborn, and unable to speak or crawl – although she could just about wriggle across the floor – and we were worried that she would turn out to be HIV positive (she wasn’t, just badly infected with worms.) She recovered rapidly once the worms were diagnosed and treated, and at 18 months could speak, stand (despite rickets), crawl, walk, and was even getting pudgy! However, when we went to visit her sister, she was living in dire poverty with her grandmother. The grandmother was at first very worried, because she thought we were bringing Zawadi back to her, and she knew she was unable to care for them both. When she found out it would be possible for Pendo to come back to the orphanage as well, as she was sickly and underweight as well, she jumped at the opportunity to give her granddaughter a better life. Pendo has had a rough ride and some bumps settling in, and is covered in small scars that may be indicative of a history of abuse – but she is well on her way to being a healthy and happy little girl. As with all the other children with surviving relatives, we strive to keep them updated on both girls’ progress. 
David’s legs were quite badly burned in an electrical fire that took place in the orphanage infant room three years ago. He and Pray, who also sustained some burns, would likely not have survived had one of the mamas, not run in and pulled them out, sustaining serious burns on her own arms in the process – yet another demonstration of the level of love and devotion these mamas have for the children. David, while a wonderful child, has trouble with discipline and often retreats to rocking when stressed, signs of some emotional disturbance. However, with love and careful care from the staff and volunteers, he has turned into a smart and sweet four year old, and will hopefully be ready for school in two years.
In the hospital following his malarial seizure
Simoni, like Zawadi, suffers from rickets, although his legs are more severely bent. Rickets is caused by vitamin deficiency, and although the orphanage feeds the kids well once they arrive, it cannot fully counteract the effects of poor pre-natal care and maternal nutrition. Additionally, formula is very expensive, so they often switch to less effectively absorbed porridge mixtures after several months, something we are trying to counteract by funding the purchase of formula. Simoni was born to a teenage mother with substance abuse problems, who left him with her grandmother (already raising another great-grandchild). She realized after several months that she could not adequately care for them, and made the agonizing decision to give Simoni up. He didn’t start walking until age two and a half, but he has come a huge way since I’ve been at the orphanage – from stumbling to confident running, although the effects of the rickets are still clearly visible. We had a scare with him earlier this year – due to a fast onset malarial fever, he had a seizure at the orphanage. Given his trouble walking and his mother’s history, we were very concerned about epilepsy. However, after a five day hospital stay where he got treated like royalty, he recovered beautifully and hasn’t had any serizure activity since. He is a gorgeous, happy, and very, very smart child.

Miriam is just one of the children who has come to us in quite difficult circumstances, as a child born to a mother with mental illness. Psychiatric care in Tanzania remains extremely difficult to access, and the mothers of children in orphanages can suffer from any range of problems, from post-partum depression to chronic, severe mental illness. In rare cases, as happened several years ago with twins from the orphanage, the mothers receive appropriate care, recover, and are able to reclaim their children, always a joyous day for us. However, in most situations, the children remain effectively orphans for life. Miriam was wonderfully cared for at another nearby orphanage that is, unfortunately, only able to provide care up to age two, and came to Nkoaranga orphanage only in April of 2011. While she had some struggles, she has since settled in beautifully and is thriving in her new home. 


Sometimes our stories don’t have such happy endings. Little Reziki came to us in December, extremely premature, having actually been delivered after his mother had passed. Unfortunately, he had severe gastro-intestinal issues  that seemed to make it impossible for him to keep anything down, and despite our best efforts and the best efforts of the hospital staff, he didn’t make it. The hardest part was, and is, not knowing whether the outcome would have been the same if we’d had access to a Western NICU – it’s entirely possible it would have been. Below is a letter I wrote to him, trying to find a way to pull meaning from a terrible situation.

Reziki – we lost you in January, after a struggle I wasn’t sure I’d make it through, and I still think about you every day. So many months later and still I’m trying not to be completely sunk by the despair of your tiny little life, and use these feelings instead to fuel pushing harder for better nutrition, for clean water, for more donations to hire more staff, for better organization of information between shifts… something to stop the wrenching of watching the incredible progress of my precious, beautiful children, and despite everything, losing a baby, a baby with no family, with no one to fight for him, whose name is already gone from the orphanage in the insane struggle to keep caring for the kids we have. So my promise to you, little man – I will not forget. We will keep working in your name and in the name of all our little fighters, to give them the futures they deserve, the future you should have had.