Grassroots Group Goes Big for Children
Meet Firelight Grantee Partner, the Mara Widows Development Group in Tanzania, a grassroots group making a big difference for children. In 2002, four women in Tanzania came together to help widows affected by HIV to take care of their families. Calling themselves the Mara Widows Development Group, they quickly assessed the greatest needs in their community. When they saw the great poverty and stigma street children, orphans and vulnerable children and families faced, they decided to expand their programs to also focus on children.
The Mara Widows Development Group has now organized Child Protection Committees in all 13 wards of the Musoma district in Tanzania. The Committees were formed in collaboration with local government officials to address violence against children. They help to identify vulnerable children and to distribute food, educational support, and other donations from community members. Mara Widows also provides trainings in care and support for children, helping to promote a protective environment free from violence. Each committee is trained by a social worker about how best to care for vulnerable children and about the importance of family-based care. The local “funds” of community-donated food, clothing, and other material items have created a safety net to draw from when children and families need it.
Mara Widows Staff states, “In our community… orphans are seen like the lost among the living,” and this group is doing something to
change that. As a membership organization, they reach approximately 120 vulnerable children by assisting caregivers, including widows and families who have opened their homes to orphans.
Firelight Foundation funding supports the participation of 40 caregivers to participate in an economic-livelihood program, which trains caregivers in small business development and management, operating a revolving loan fund, monitoring their progress, and providing feedback to participants.
Mara Widows Development Group continually encourages community participation and has leveraged government support through its advocacy for better laws, policies, and structural reforms to better prevent violence against children. They are a humble yet tenacious organization that has evolved into, "a place to turn to,” for community members and children in need.
This story was written by Mia Schmid, a Firelight Foundation Volunteer.