A woman in her early 20s is often viewed as one who is at the age of trying new things, getting first experiences of life’s situations and challenges as she tries to achieve her goals.
One such woman, LisaRuth Hakim 22, is an entrepreneur and a law student at Tumaini University. Yet, she chose to volunteer for Young Counseling (Yoco), an orphanage in Mbezi- Msigani in Dar es Salaam city’s suburbs, which is home to 27 children aged 4 to 20.
“In 2019, I started volunteering in terms of offering advice and serving as a bridge between the society and the orphanage centre. I also organise fundraising events and find sponsors to help the centre,” says Lisa.
Prior to volunteering at Yoco, the young woman used to go from one orphanage to another for visitations as well as to assist in fund raising.
“I was raised in a family that occasionally visits orphanages to offer support. At different times, my mother would make us collect clothes that we had outgrown, we would then buy different things to take to the orphanages. That experience has over the years made me perceive orphans differently.”
The experience made Lisa develop a habit of visiting orphanages, which has made orphans to become a part of her life.
“One day when I was fund raising for another centre, I met the caretaker of Yoco, who was going around asking for food donations. Our exchange made me get concerned. He told me that the centre did not have food at all.”
This came as a shock to Lisa who had never heard of an orphanage that lacked food. Matters got worse when the caretaker told her that the children’s school fees was a problem too.
“After visiting the place I got more concerned because the children were sleeping on bare cold floors. I decided to split the money I had collected for the other centre, which was Sh1 million. I used Sh500,000 to purchase food for Yoco,” shares Lisa.
When she finished high school in 2018, Lisa asked fellow students to give her their mattresses, which she believed would relieve the children at Yoco of the burden of sleeping on cold floors.
Her first act to the centre made Lisa get to know the children better. She says children at orphanages are more than what the majority of people think about them.
“These children are usually thought to be sad because of their status but they are actually happy, radiant and are taught and surrounded by love from the day they are taken in,” says Lisa.
As she visited the centre from time to time, Lisa eventually fell in love with the place and the children too. She understood their life and that of those taking care of them and the centre in its totality.
“They are taught to be grateful to every person that steps in there. They are taught to pray for themselves and the visitors, it was a rare sight to me,” says Lisa.
According to her, the children have positively impacted her life in many aspects, especially economically.
“I have reached a stage where every time I have a business idea, I often think how to link it to the orphanage and how the children can benefit from it,” she explains.
Turning to social media
Lisa decided to use her influence on social media, specifically her Instagram account with over 9,500 followers, to seek help for the children. She believes that people are sometimes willing to help but don’t know where to channel their donations.
“I was amazed when people reached out wanting to help. The orphanage started getting a lot of visitors who assisted them in terms of food, beds, health insurance and other forms of assistance.”
The centre’s manager who the children fondly call ‘father’ opened up to Lisa about how the centre’s monthly rent, which is Sh400,000 was weighing down on him.
“We came up with the idea of building a house for the children though we knew it would take ages to get the funds since it is costly building a house. We were lucky to find a one-acre plot at Malamba Mawili, near Mbezi Mwisho at Sh50 million.”
Lisa started a campaign dubbed ‘Let’s get them a home’ on December 7, 2019, which is still ongoing on her Instagram account, to raise the money.
“We have so far collected about Sh42 million, which has been split in the purchase of construction materials and the plot. We were also lucky to have gotten an understanding plot seller who considered the fact that we have temporary sponsors. He did not give us a deadline to pay for the land” says Lisa.
Initially, Lisa had to work extra hard to explain to her Instagram followers on the centre’s needs. She says many Tanzanians are often concerned by their own problems so much that they barely take notice of other people’s problems.
One of the hardest things, she says, is asking for money from people you have never met, as you try to seek assistance for people they have also not met except for the photos you post on social media.
“I chose to be the bridge between my social media followers and the orphanage centre, whereas I inform my followers of the centre’s problems while influencing them to visit the centre to see the children’s conditions for themselves.”
“When I started the campaign ‘Let’s make them a home’, deep down I knew I had to work twice as hard to make people believe in the existence of the centre and the children living in poor conditions.”
Lisa says she faces a lot of challenges, which she often turn into stepping stones for the betterment of the orphanage. There are times when Yoco lacks money for the children’s school fees, food and they always look up to Lisa for help, something that at times makes her feel helpless. Yoco does not have a permanent sponsor but depends on donations.
Like is the case with the majority of orphanages and before Lisa came into the picture, Yoco orphanage centre depended on donations from society, organisations and individuals.
Lisa says to because there are people who might think she benefits from the orphanage, she influences people to physically visit the orphanage to see ways they can be of help.
Joseph Luzegama,39, who is Yoco’s manager, founded the centre in 2014, targeting to help children, widows and youth. He started with one child, who is the oldest, at 21, and currently studying law at Moshi Cooperative University.
“We will always be appreciative of every help that comes our way and the project of constructing them a permanent home is proof that there are individuals and organisations out there, who despite the current economic hardships, understand the needs of the children as well as other people,” he says.
Joseph says they are looking forward to having a better environment for the children.