Volunteering in Tanzania ~ Ilula Orphan Program: Part III

“In every community there is work to be done. In every nation there are wounds to heal. In every heart there is the power to do it.”  ~  Marianne Williamson

IOP Group Photo

***I apologize for this post going out again, but a couple of weeks ago I hit publish instead of update when I was putting it together. I hit trash right away, but apparently many received it.  Sorry. This is the final version.

Each January a team of 15-20 volunteers from the US commit to work at the Ilula Orphan Center in Ilula, Tanzania. Each year thousands of dollars are raised to fill a shipping container with what ever is needed that year: tractor, parts, agricultural implements, sewing machines, more parts, books, donated pharmaceuticals, clothing, shoes, etc. Three months later when the container shows up, several men from the states are there to see their mission through and make sure everything is in working order. This commitment has been going on for over 10 years and is sponsored by the Mennonite Church in Cannelburg, IN, and Christ United Methodist Church in Washington, IN.

In Jan, 2008, Ron and I and our good friends, Robert and Paula joined a team from Indiana to volunteer our time. Our group consisted of ministers, nursing students, a nurse/dentist couple, retired school teachers, businessmen, farmers, a sixteen year old boy and an 80 year old woman. Many of us didn’t know each other, but we quickly became a team with a purpose.

After filling out a thorough application for this trip, we received a Handbook for Volunteers. The Table of Contents was comprehensive, but the second page made me chuckle. Here was the first rule stated in bold letters inside a  box.


  •  I find out where the toilet is.
  • I put my match box in a place that I’ll remember.
  • If I don’t know how to light a kerosene lamp I make sure someone teaches me.

The hand book also included photos and names of each of the girls (ages 6-17) and I believe I knew them before I got there.

After reading the handbook, I felt we made the right decision and I also looked forward to meeting this Norwegian/American woman who started the orphanage in 1998, a woman who left everything behind to do what she felt was meant to be. When she was a child visiting Tanzania for the first time, she knew she wanted to build a school there so children can read and write. Berit has done that and much more.

Berit Skaare

Berit Skaare, IOP Founder

Berit Skaare’s Mission Statement is “to provide education, homes, and life skills to orphans, most vulnerable children, youth and women for the purpose of making them become self-reliant citizens of Tanzania.”

She chose the perfect location to do this in Ilula and its eight villages. This ward has the second highest rate of AIDS/HIV in the country. The national highway (Tanzanian Highway) cuts right through the district and is the major thoroughfare connecting Tanzania, Zambia, and Malawi. This alone is a conduit for AIDS/HIV with the amount of commercial truckers and traffic. Ilula is the tomato capital of the country which also brings in truckers. The villages along this road have the highest incidence of orphans (3000).

Tanzanian Highway

This is our story:

Yes, I had seen a picture of the orphanage but I did not know what kind of welcoming we would receive. As soon as our bus pulled onto the grounds all 32 girls exploded out of the building like fireworks, each with her own sparkle… clapping, singing and one little girl was beating her drum. Such smiles. Such innocence. Such exuberance. Such a feeling of joy I had after  a long, tiring trip to get here.

Each girl wanted to help us to our assigned rooms. The girls are in one wing and volunteers/guests in another wing with a large dining hall and study center connecting the two. Each room had two bunk beds, two desks and two wardrobes, all made by Norwegian teams. Mosquito nets hung over each bed as there were no screens on the windows. At 6,000 feet it was warm during the day, but the nights cooled down, but not enough to keep the mosquitoes and flies out of the rooms. This would be home for two weeks. I loved it!

The kitchen was outside in a hut…as well as the showers and pit toilets. However, we did take turns showering in doors…cold water and all.

IOP Kitchen

Our first evening supper consisted of goat stew and ugali (corn mush). The cooked greens we had were gritty from the sand that wasn’t rinsed off. I truly wondered if our group would survive on this diet without intestinal issues, but amazingly we did; however, we all went home pounds lighter. I had brought two huge jars of peanut butter for the group as survival food. On our very first night  there was a knock on our bedroom door by one of the pastors asking for the peanut butter. These jars would not last long. 🙂

Our first morning was a tour of “The Lord’s Acre”, the nick name for the ten acres for the orphanage and working farm. Cows, goats, chickens and hogs are raised.


The rest of the land is planted in corn and some fruit trees. Villagers can sign in, pick up a hoe and work for a little maize.Hoeing Corn

The property has a large storeroom for corn, etc and has small rooms for seamstresses to learn their trade. Each team member was asked to bring an additional suitcase filled with donated supplies (50 lb. each).  All of these items needed to go to their respective slots in the storeroom.

IOP Storeroom

The men worked hard on making a drain field to get rid of the pool of water that stands in the front courtyard every time it rains. We called it the “malaria pond”. One disabled young man was hired to do the welding.

IOP-Malaria Pond IOP Welding

They also spent time repairing broken implements, putting a gas powered washing machine together and actually getting it to work.

New Washing Machine

Donated sewing machines were assembled. I brought tons of thread which got put to use. Boxes of boy’s long sleeve white shirts were donated, but the girls needed short sleeve shirts for their school uniforms. We  cut the sleeves off and everyone got practice on the sewing machines hemming.

We worked hard sanding and varnishing window frames of a restaurant the orphanage has built which is now open. This will provide job skills for many.

IOP- Sanding and Varinishing

Our dentist spent time doing  extractions on the girls in the orphanage, staff members and villagers who have lived with serious dental problems. No Novocaine.

Dental Work

A community based health care program was held at the orphanage.

Those involved in education (like myself) assisted teachers at the Kid’s Corner/pre school, another program sponsored by IOP (Ilula Orphan Program).  What a joy this was.IOP-Kids Corner

This orphanage known as IOP has been recognized by the Tanzanian government for its worthy programs. Choosing to build an orphanage for 32 girls was a conscious decision but what to do about the thousands left out of orphanages. Berit, the founder began a sponsor program for orphans and vulnerable children in the Ilula Ward. Over 900 children are now sponsored by individuals in the US, Norway and Luxemburg.

Ron and I have sponsored a young man now for five years and we just got a letter that Innocent Kuzirwa will be receiving a certificate in business administration this July. We have enjoyed his letters over the years and are pleased that he can take his place in society with confidence.

The Foster Family Program is incredible. IOP supports foster families in the ward (70+) with two or more orphans. The families selected are supported with household needs, such as beds, mattresses, food, school uniforms, and even bricks to build an additional room for the orphans they are agreeing to take care of. In exchange, the parents must attend seminars which includes behavior changes in orphans, decision making, HIV/AIDS, health care, etc. It is rare that children have been taken away from a family for reasons of abuse or alcohol abuse, but it has happened. IOP will not expose vulnerable children to more neglect.

My fondest memories are waking up early and watching the girls get ready for school. They retrieve hot pieces of charcoal from the kitchen fire to put into the irons and then take turns ironing their school uniforms. They line up and go through Berit’s daily inspection before being hugged and sent off to school. Today, IOP has raised enough funds, received government certification and has built their own High School on IOP land, another dream for Berit.

I enjoyed spending time outside with the girls, washing our clothes together and hanging them on the lines while they talked about their dreams for the future. Here, they are in a safe, caring environment where they can have dreams. They are the lucky ones.

Or just hanging out practicing Swahili and English.

IOP Girls

Or them wanting to braid my short hair, getting frustrated and giving up while we laughed ourselves silly.

My favorite memory was before bed time when the girls danced and sang and drummed. This took place in their quarters and I would join in. Some of the girls would turn the kerosene lanterns down or off to signal it was bed time. Then, they would hold hands and get in a circle while one of the girls would give a short devotion and prayer. Those moments for me and other members of our adult team who joined them was pure spiritual magic.

Then, there would be hugs and I would hear,

“Lala Salama, Bibi.” Sleep in peace, Grandmother.

Next Post: Swahili 101


About travelerlynne

Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!
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18 Responses to Volunteering in Tanzania ~ Ilula Orphan Program: Part III

  1. megtraveling says:

    What a wonderful opportunity – and great memories too!

  2. restlessjo says:

    So very humbling, Lynne. It makes you feel that you should get out and do something NOW!
    We sponsor a child in Africa but there’s nothing like that sense of connection you must have made.

  3. Thanks, Jo. It was a humbling experience and am glad I had the opportunity. Not everyone can or wants to do that, but just starting in one’s community is a beginning and many are doing that.

  4. vb holmes says:

    You’ve done a wonderful job of describing your special experience in Tanzania and Ron’s photos are the perfect compliment. So interesting–thanks for sharing, Lynne.

  5. Thanks for your comment. Definitely an experience worth sharing.

  6. adinparadise says:

    Wonderful post, Lynne. How wonderful to be able to do so much to help those needy people in Tanzania. You must have such a great feeling of achievement now that Innocent has qualified. Well done to him, and also to you for sponsoring him.

  7. paulxaverian says:

    Dats so awesome juc 1 say GOD BE WITH YOU

  8. This must have been such an enriching experience, both for you and Ron, and for these orphans. You should be really proud of yourselves for your contribution. I hope I’ll be able to do volunteer work like this one day. 🙂

  9. Yes, it was Cathy, but it just wasn’t enough time. I admire your working in another country…staying long enough to understand the culture, but I know you are anxious to get home and into something else. Any more ideas on jobs and work? You are qualified to do so much.

  10. gwynnem says:

    Wonderful story, Lynne. It’s heartening to know folks are out there giving time and energy to help communities help themselves.

  11. Thanks, Gwen. It was a worthy opportunity and I’m glad I participated. We have so much to learn from those we go to serve. These girls are awesome.

  12. eof737 says:

    Truly heart warming and i bet that peanut butter dispersed fast. 😆

  13. Madhu says:

    Very uplifting account Lynne. Like you say these girls are the lucky ones 🙂

  14. I would like to think we uplifted each other. Life was pretty bleak for these girls before coming to the orphanage. Multiply these situations all over the world.

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