Love. In action.
Love. There is much written about it. And even more said about it. Recently, we celebrated Valentine's Day and love in all its forms, especially among the children who, in spite of the devastating loss of their parents, find it in their hearts to show love to others around them.
The story of Nomvula, who lives in a remote village in northeastern Tanzania, embodies the kind of love I am talking about.
The story begins with a small but amazing organization that Firelight has funded since 2006. Kwa Wazee (meaning for the elders in Swahili) provides a small monthly pension to grandparents. Each grandmother receives $5 a month and an additional $2.75 for each child in her care. Like many across Africa, these grandmothers and a few grandfathers, find themselves caring for their grandchildren at a time they would normally be cared for by their own children.
In their old age, they are not as strong as they once were and limited in their physical capacity to grow their own food or fetch water and firewood. That small bit of cash means that these grandmother-headed households have regular and more nutritious meals, can afford soap, and can provide school materials. These benefits bring positive changes to children’s lives: they have more regular school attendance, time to play, study, and be with friends.
But Kwa Wazee provides more than money. They facilitate grandmother support groups, which reduce the isolation among the elderly. A bond forms among group members, which provides mutual care and support. The stronger grandmothers might fetch firewood for those who are frail. They visit each other when they are sick. They share the burden of worrying about their grandchildren when they die. Most groups have started small income generating activities and the money is used to help any group member weathering a crisis.
In other words, they show each other love.
And so do the children in their Tato Tano support groups. In these groups, children of different age groups become a tight-knit extended family. They encourage each other at school. Help each other to do their chores. And one group helped one of their members by building him a house. You see, when his grandmother died he could have moved away from this village to join his Aunt and her family. But because of the love and security he felt in his Tato Tano group, he chose to stay.
But what is amazing is that in both the grandparent groups and the Tato Tano groups, love and care are not limited to those who are part of the group. That love and caring is given to others in the community who need support.
At the age of 13, Nomvula had to leave school to care for her sick mother and her two brothers, Gilbert (15) and Kevin (5 months). And not long after that her mother died from AIDS complicated illnesses, leaving Nomvula and her two brothers alone. Her paternal grandparents were willing to take Nomvula and Gilbert. But, they were reluctant to take in Kevin because he had a different father. Nomvula and her brother were not wiling to separate. They chose to remain together even if it meant struggling.
But not for long.
One of the Tato Tano children’s groups, Tuinuane, knew that Nomvula and her brothers lived in a dilapidated house and were struggling to find food. So they started helping them, using the little money gained from their income-generating project. One girl, Thobile, would visit Nomvula everyday and help by holding the baby, while others helped with chores. Realizing Nomvula’s sense of isolation, they invited her to join their Tato Tano group meeting.
That changed Nomvula’s life.
When Thobile shared Nomvula’s story with her grandmother, she in turn shared it with her support group. A few grandparents then went to Nomvula’s grandmother and grandfather, encouraging them to take in all three children. Amazingly, they agreed. And even more importantly were able to enroll in the monthly pension program.
With financial support from Kwa Wazee they were able to build a small house for Nomvula and her siblings. Nomvula and her older brother returned to school. And the baby is well cared for by their grandparents.
That the children in the Tuinuane Tato Tano group chose to take action to help Nomvula and her siblings is testament of their sense of responsibility for each other’s well-being. That very act of caring created the opportunity for Nomvula and her brothers to have a home, education, and the care of adults.
That is love. In action.
And it’s worth celebrating.
You can read the full report on the evaluation of Kwa Wazee’s program: http://zunia.org/post/salt-soap-and-shoes-for-school-evaluation-report-the-impact-of-pensions-on-the-lives-of-older-peo/