We listen first, always, and gather extensive feedback and input from children.
Africa Bridge commits to five-year partnerships with local communities. The process begins with community engagement, during which village leaders and influential local government officials pledge to work in partnership with Africa Bridge. Engagement continues with in-depth meetings with villagers.
First Africa Bridge meets with the children only, during a three-day, in-depth guided session called Future Search. In this safe, supportive environment, children have the opportunity to share their experiences, hopes and dreams. They speak from the heart, and have intuitive understanding of their own and their families’ needs and aspirations.
It’s through children that Africa Bridge is able to glean authentic needs. Interviews and needs assessments are conducted and the youth testimonies are recorded:
“I would like to talk about education and employment for youths in our ward. We would like to get some support in terms of school fees, uniforms, books and other supplies. We need some transport assistance for those who get selected to join secondary school in far places because they cannot afford to pay the fare. We also need to have high school in our ward. We need more classrooms and teachers.”
Future Search participant, Masoko Ward
Men, women and children come together as equals, discover their common ground and plan for the future.
Following Future Search, adult stakeholders come together in another three-day meeting to make village development plans, driven by the children’s ideas and agendas. Core components generally include an intensive two- to three-year period of assisting villages in caring for children, investing seed-capital for agricultural enterprise, and providing intensive training in a range of capacity-building skills.
In the last stage of Africa Bridge’s support cycle, lasting about two years, Africa Bridge reinforces the villages in their growing strength and independence. After five years, we exit in order to bring resources to other needy communities nearby. At that point, the institutions created and programs implemented are strong enough to be sustainable.
What’s unique about Africa Bridge’s approach?
Village based committees are formed; members develop skills needed to identify and support vulnerable children.
What is a Most Vulnerable Children Committee (MVCC)?
Core to Africa Bridge’s model is the establishment of a voluntary village committee, known as the Most Vulnerable Children Committee, which takes on responsibility for identifying and aiding vulnerable children and their families.
MVC Committees help address children’s barriers to school attendance, offer assistance in getting birth certificates and other legal protection, provide short-term food and shelter aid, offer care-giving and life-skills training provide recreational and social support to vulnerable children through Kids’ Clubs, and other similar activities.
MVC Committees also educate all villagers on topics such as health and nutrition, AIDS prevention, and legal protections. Additionally, committees nominate guardians to become members of new village agricultural cooperatives. The commitment and energies of devoted volunteers operate these committees independently and permanently, after start-up assistance from Africa Bridge.
Families caring for vulnerable children are organized into income-generating cooperatives; members receive seedlings, animals, training and support.
What is a small business cooperative (co-op)?
In addition to establishing Most Vulnerable Children Committees, Africa Bridge provides a pathway to economic independence for caretakers of vulnerable children. This is done by establishing crop and livestock co-ops, providing start-up loans to co-op members, and offering intensive training.
Repayments of co-op loans from villagers go back into the co-ops, so they can expand their memberships to other impoverished families caring for vulnerable children. In addition to becoming the key to economic security for families, these co-ops are expected to divert some of their profits to provide a long-term source of support for the MVC Committees. In these ways, the MVC Committees and co-ops are interdependent and reinforcing.
Small business training and start-up capital grants are provided to spark new business endeavors.
In addition to the core MVC Committees and cooperative businesses, Africa Bridge facilitates the creation of small village micro-lending groups. These associations provide a needed source for short-term credit in villages that have no banks, with terms set by the association. Villagers use these new opportunities to borrow for emergencies, to help pay for children’s schooling, and to start new small businesses. These borrowing opportunities also help build banking and business know-how.
Establishing standards for equal membership of women on committees and in co-ops is a priority for Africa Bridge. Through participation in these institutions, many women have gone from no voice in village affairs to becoming leaders in their community.
Who is Granny Witness?
Granny Witness and her grown daughter care for nine most vulnerable children in the village of Idweli, the first community in southwest Tanzania to receive support from Africa Bridge.
In 2005, Granny Witness joined a pig co-op.
By 2010, Granny Witness built a new concrete house with a tin roof, built a small pub and two retail shops, and helped get all of her kids into public or private school
Classrooms and clinics are constructed in partnership with village officials and community volunteers. HIV/AIDS prevention education is offered to children and adults.
Integrated, sustainable development requires comprehensive, holistic solutions. For most communities, access to healthcare and education is just as important as economic opportunity, social and legal support.
In addition to working with the Tanzanian government to build dispensaries and housing for medical professionals, Africa Bridge works with local villagers and school officials to build and renovate classrooms. The more kids who receive the support and resources necessary to attend school, the more crowded classrooms become. A solution was needed.
This Is My School was created by students and connects vulnerable schools in Tanzania with schools in the United States. Over the course of several years, these sister schools interact in a meaningful way to generate resources for schools supplies, desks, chairs and classroom improvements.