Africa Bridge Listens to Kids

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written by Lee DiSanti


It takes a village to raise a child. In Tanzania—an African country roughly three times the size of Oregon— people in remote villages, hobbled by poverty and AIDS, take the sentiment literally.

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photo by Gary Grossman

“People who have nothing will take in a homeless child, and that is the biggest risk a poor family can take,” said Tanzanian native-turned-Oregonian, Barry Childs, 70. “It means they have another mouth to feed when they can hardly feed the mouths that are already present.”

In 2000, Childs founded Africa Bridge—a Portland-based nonprofit that helps vulnerable children who are extremely poor, malnourished, orphaned, abandoned, marginalized or HIV positive—by helping individual families by empowering whole villages.

Childs grew up trekking through Tanzania’s distant villages with his father, a botanist. While the elder Childs taught agricultural practices, the younger learned games, languages and culture among village children.

He left Tanzania in 1969 to pursue an education and a career, then returned thirtyfive years later to experience a country rife with poverty and epidemic. Yet, Childs saw strength in the commitment to protecting and caring for children within the communities.

“I didn’t know how, but I knew I had to make a difference,” he said.

When conceptualizing Africa Bridge, Childs interviewed Africans from all walks of life. One man, a South African “Zulu-Jew” doctor, made a lasting impression.

He told Childs that every dollar that came to aid Africa, came with a Western agenda.

“People in countries that send money decide how to spend money, but have no context of what the realities are,” said Childs. “What makes sense abroad may not make sense in Africa.”

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photo by Gary Grossman

He believes that Tanzanian children need a voice in the organization’s programs.

“When I first came up with the idea, my buddy thought I emerged from a lunatic asylum,” Childs said.

Africa Bridge first interviews at-risk children before it enters new villages. “Children know what’s going on in the community, and they are transparent,” he said.

The organization layers aid efforts. It partners with Tanzanian government committees to identify vulnerable areas and provide immediate social services. It also establishes agricultural co-ops to help families and economies.

In the dairy co-op, families receive American-Tanzanian hybrid cows, capable of producing four times the milk of a local variety.

“A family receives immediate sustenance from the milk,” explained Alex Chester, 34, the organization’s finance and operations manager.

Families then sell excess milk for income.

“We can transform children’s lives by transforming the families and communities that take them in,” said Childs.

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