Child sponsorship advertisements often tell us that for approximately a dollar a day, we have the power to change the life of a child in a poverty-stricken country. While it may be hard to fathom, there is a lot of truth to this message, which seems to be used by every organization seeking sponsorship.
For one Orangeville resident, the experience of seeing how a little bit of funding could go a long way changed her life.
As a student of Anthropology and Archeology, Emily Mallett ventured to Tanzania in 2005 with a charitable organization. While there, she fell in love with the country, which she describes as both peaceful and beautiful, and strongly aware of the kinds of struggles children faced in the country.
“While there I met with a leader of a local organization interested in helping orphans, named Thadeus ” said Ms. Mallett. “I had a strong interest in the languages there, and after leaving we kept in touch. He would practise his English in emails to me, while I would practice my Swahili. He shared with me his dream to one day open an orphanage.”
In 2007, Thadeus’ mother suddenly passed away, and though he was much older than the other children who became orphans, his loss renewed both the sympathy and empa- thy he had for the local orphans.
They discussed moving forward with the idea, and Ms. Mallett reached out to some of the people who had gone on the trip with her to Tanzania. They worked together to do some fundraising, and were able to purchase a building in the town of Bukoba, which sits in the far northwest tip of Tanzania.
“We did a lot of fundraising, began attracting sponsors, and community leaders started bringing kids to Thadeus,” explained Ms. Mallett.
Fast forward to 2015, and the project has continued to grow, gain momentum, and expanded into far more than just an orphanage. Now called the Gerladina Orphanage and Education Centre, the facility not only provides a home to orphaned children, but through sponsorships provides education for even more children who would not necessarily have the means to achieve it.
Functioning now as the Executive Director of the Centre, Ms. Mallett explained that the facility they had quickly outgrew the need in the communities for such a place.
“I went back to Tanzania in 2012, and we were able to break ground for a future facility that would be capable of housing far more kids, as well as act as a school for these kids.”
The current program has 64 children sponsored, and 24 staying at the orphanage, whereas the new facility would be able to house up to 100 boys and 100 girls in each of the two dormitory wings, as well as pro- vide eight full classrooms for the education centre. Currently, three of those classrooms have been built, but the dorms are not ready yet.
The facility is designed to be one that can help self-sustain itself. Along with solar panel roofing, it also has a system designed to gather rain water which can be used by the students and orphans in the facilities.
“There’s such a need in this community, and we’re working to meet these needs and provide a home for those kids who don’t have one,” said Ms. Mallett. “It’s a magical environment when you have the opportunity to stay there and experience what’s happening there first-hand; they truly have become a family. Thadeus has really become a father to those children.”
While some stories of how the kids came to be at the orphanage can be heartbreaking, the transformation they experience through the love and support of the orphanage is an indication of the impact they have.
Ms. Mallett shared one such story during an interview with The Citizen. Last year, a local orphan was brought to Gerladina by the authorities. Only two years old, the young girl was found naked by the police in a dog shelter. She was malnourished and unhealthy. Now, a year later, she is healthy, bright-eyed, and taken care of by some of the older children in the orphanage.
“These kids are all about paying it forward,” said Ms. Mallett. “I have no doubt that they will go on to do great and wonderful things for other children. We see them taking care of each other at the orphanage; their hearts are just so big.”
She added that this is the image she wants people to see when they hear about kids who need sponsorships to go to school.
“The stereotype that I really can’t stand is when organizations paint the picture that these kids are so sad, so miserable, and so alone,” she said. “They show images of sad children, with flies buzzing around and no joy in their lives, and that’s not the case.”
Despite lacking money, family, education, and often many ‘things’, the kids in these African villages and countries are filled with a joy and gratitude that many kids in First World countries have never experienced. Gifts like stickers, sidewalk chalk and skipping ropes are treasures, not to be hoarded, but to be shared over laughter and games. Many are eager to learn because they understand that it’s not a right for them, it’s a privilege.“Our organization doesn’t have a huge corporation or big supporter behind us to do all of this,” said Ms. Mallett. “We have no regular funding or partnerships, but there is also no overhead costs. We cover things like bank- ing fees so that every bit of the sponsorship money we bring in goes directly to the kids.”
Part of what they believe in at Gerladina is donor accountability — unlike many organizations which take overhead costs and other costs out of the sponsorship money, they want their donors to see that every penny goes to help that sponsor child, ensuring they have roofs over their heads and an education at their fingertips.
“The impact these sponsorships have had for these kids is just unbelievable,” added Ms. Mallett. “It’s like night and day when you compare these kids to when they came and where they are now.”
With so many kids in the orphanage and the school, being there has also taught them valuable skills for their futures, such as parenting. Many of the older kids take care of the younger kids as they would in a typical family.
Although the dream to expand their reach through the new facility is in the works, there is still a financial roadblock to get past. The remainder of the project will cost about $100,000 — an amount that wouldn’t be an issue for a larger company, but is a struggle to a smaller non-profit that does not have any major partnerships to help with financial backing.
In order to help meet their financial needs, the organization holds an annual fundraiser, called Brighten Our Future, in Toronto. This year marks the sixth annual event, held at the Lulu Lounge in downtown Toronto. The lounge provides use of the club, and all the performers of the evening provide entertain- ment for free, so that 100% of funds raised can go towards the building project.
“Our aim is to raise enough money to con- tinue the building project,” said Ms. Mallett. “Over the last few years, we have raised enough at each event to cover the cost of one classroom. It’s a lot of leg work for us because we’re a grassroots organization, but we are getting there.”
According to Ms. Mallett, just two people attending the fundraiser is enough to put a child through school for an entire year.
“I do this because I can, because how can you not when you’ve been over there and seen the impact this has and the situation they are in first-hand?” she added. “I can [help], therefore I must. This is something I’ll do the rest of my life, and I would love to pass it along to my daughter.”
The Brighten Our Future fundraising event will be held this Sunday, September 13 at the Lulu Lounge, 1585 Dundas West between Brock Avenue and Dufferin Street. Tickets are $20 per person or $30 per couple (children are admitted free).
Dinner reservations at the lounge will guarantee seating. Advance tickets are available on the organization’s website.