It takes a village to raise a child and this is especially true in the case of orphaned children. Michael Amanyire and Tiffany Tai are part of such a village called, Twerwaneho Orphans Community Initiative (TOCI), a locally run program focused on helping orphaned and disabled children in Uganda. Michael is the founder and director of TOCI and a special needs teacher from Uganda. Tiffany is a program manager from the U.S.A. and was a Peace Corps volunteer with TOCI. Working with professionals and community members they helped build a thriving center to support children who have been orphaned.
Unlike traditional orphans where children live communally in one place, TOCI finds local parents to care for children in their own communities. Similar to the foster care system in other countries, this allows orphans to stay close to familiar areas and customs as opposed to being sent far away to places unknown. They offer a range of services centered around supporting children including education, vocational and agricultural training, water and sanitation projects, home care, and testing and counseling for those infected with HIV/AIDS.
MICHAEL AMANYIRE: I grew up from a very needy family with my mother who was infected with HIV/AIDs and lost my father when I was still in primary school. I passed primary school with the help of my 80 year old grandmother. However, she couldn’t support me through secondary school, so I was helped by a local charity to finish my secondary school and then joined the primary teachers college where I qualified as a primary teacher. Recently, I completed a diploma in special needs education.
After completing my teaching course in 2005 I was posted to a remote school and surrounding villages were severely infected and affected by HIV/AIDs, In a move to help the orphans cope up with challenges of the disease in my teaching class, I started Twerwaneho Orphans Community Initiative (TOCI) on May 1, 2006 which has grown into a community program supporting over 128 house holds and reaching over 2,000 direct beneficiaries in the last 8 years, through community out reach support services.
My grandmother who raised me was a Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA) who helped over 1,000 mothers have safe delivery and healthy babies. She did this process and service for free with the help of her grandchildren looking for local herbs to give to babies and expectant mothers. There were many TBAs in Uganda before the year 2000, because at that time, there existed less than 5 hospitals offering reliable health services on top of poor infrastructure like roads and means of transport and communication.
This experience, as a young child made me realize the importance of saving lives and working for mankind.
Secondly, the help I got from the local charity also made me change my attitude to help others so that they can succeed and sustain themselves.
In the years of 2007-2010, I worked part-time with volunteers from Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) in areas of community and school based rehabilitation, helping children with special needs to cope up and manage various impairments such as physical, mental, visual and hearing. This project through community outreach clinics and sensitizations improved lives of over 100 children with special needs resulting in some regaining their mobility, partial sight, basic sign language communication, going back to school and acceptance of special needs children in the community.
In 2010, I started working on a part-time basis with Peace Corps Volunteer Devon Jancin in areas of community and school empowerment projects that improves the social and economic lives of over 60 vulnerable children.
In 2011-13, Peace Corps officially sent us Tiffany Tai to volunteer for two years. During her two year service we reached over 1,500 vulnerable children and women in areas of water and sanitation, income generation, art and crafts, education, health, vocational skills training, agriculture, organizational capacity development, human resource management, resource mobilization, and management.
In the school and community I work from, I was entrusted with many volunteer assignments and made time and progressing accomplishments.
What inspired you to get involved with TOCI? When I was posted to teach in a very remote school, I found out that there were many children living under difficult circumstances and on research found that the community was hit by HIV/AIDs for some years and there were no drugs to support lives of those infected and this resulted in leaving many families headed by a child, others infected with HIV, malnourished, prone to hunger, and lacking basic facilities; hence making the children lives very difficult and risking death. Upon the above findings, I mobilized a group to help which later grew into an organization.
Also with my experience with VSO volunteers in the community, I found out that many children with special needs were mistreated, neglected and abandoned and therefore, this called for an attention to empower them to reach their full potential and exploit the environment they are in.
What steps did you take to start this particular journey? Having compiled a list of findings and possible interventions in 2006 I took the following measures.
-Mobilizing fellow teachers to visit and support the children at school and at home.
-Identifying community members to render support within the villages the kids were coming from.
-Identifying interventions that can support the children immediately within the local environment and context.
-Forming a group and setting rules and regulations governing the service I was offering.
-Linking and collaborating with nearby health centres, special needs school and sub county.
-Identifying more people with NGO experience to guide and support.
-Identifying and collaborating with resourceful persons to guide and lobby for support including local and international volunteers.
-Registering with authorities and setting up the legal framework and structure for the community based organization to run officially.
-Involving and collaborating with many stakeholders to efficiently and effectively to improve service delivery to the vulnerable children.
What obstacles have challenged you?
-Poor and long distant roads in the villages where children stay affects my service delivery because at times I walk use or use an old motorcycle for the project
-Lacking enough resources to facilitate volunteers to reach many vulnerable children.
-Lacking a resource centre to coordinate all the activities.
-As we operate from the community remotely, it affects volunteers and staff to move there in time.
-Increasing number of vulnerable children competing for few available resources.
-High costs of school fees increase drop out of intelligent children we have supported through primary or secondary school.
-Inadequate facilities to set up a vocational centre with various skills training courses.
-Inadequate funds to support medical rehabilitation of special needs children.
What is your proudest accomplishment during your time volunteering? Supporting and reaching over 2,000 children and women in the last 8 years to access water and sanitation facilities , education, health, vocational training, rehabilitation, capacity development through using minimum resources supplanted with a great percentage of community contribution.
How people can get involved in the organization?
-Coordinating to organize volunteer programs with us.
-Starting and support income project for the vulnerable family.
-Donating vocational training kit to the organization
-Supporting few academically brilliant kids to pursue good courses/carrier and get good jobs to support their own communities in return.
-Donating reading books and scholastic materials to vulnerable children.
-Supporting special needs children with kits to help them cope up with life.
TIFFANY TAI: Born and raised in sunny California, I am ethnically Chinese with a passion for corporate philanthropy and citizenship. Growing up, I traveled and studied in Asia; and dreamed of working in the corporate world until I was inspired to join Peace Corps after seeing my cousin serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I saw that small changes could lead to large impacts and I wanted to make a difference too. An example of this change (with TOCI) was seeing how local farmers can increase their monthly income by 33% by learning to plant a new, easy to maintain crop with an existing market. As a bonus, I was able to see what working/living abroad for an extended period of time would be like.
What inspired you to get involved with TOCI? Peace Corps assigns you to an organization during your service so getting paired with TOCI was by pure luck and I’m incredibly happy to have been paired with TOCI. Upon arriving, seeing the state of the children and how TOCI was really making a positive impact in their lives, it fueled my desire to help TOCI grow into a sustainable organization and to increase their outreach.
What steps did you take to start this particular journey? After being accepted into Peace Corps and having gone through training in-country, I started my journey by doing what anyone else would do. I learned about the organization and the people I would be working with and assessed to see how I could fit in and where there was room for improvement or opportunity.
We started out by identifying the strengths and weaknesses, and identifying goals. Once we had established those, we thought about how we could reach our goals and how to minimize our weaknesses and utilize our strengths.
I worked mostly with my counterpart so that he could be the one to initiate and promote action and communication (to discourage people from thinking that “Westerners” are the ones helping them). We worked on formalizing an organizational structure, setting up proper documentation for accountability and transparency, and learning business skills such as report writing and IT. I also made an effort to network with other organizations and people in the area and to connect TOCI to them.
What obstacles have challenged you?/What is your proudest accomplishment during your time volunteering? By far, our largest obstacle was our lack of resources. TOCI was fortunate enough to have great community support and a wonderful founder, but the lack or resources made it difficult to get moving initially. When I first arrived, the entire organization depended on the generosity of the founder and on his ability to be involved in the community. We worked to create a support team for him so that he could delegate and focus on areas he could make the greatest impact. We also changed the way we looked at our resources and asked ourselves, “what can we do with what we’ve got?” and “how can we maximize output with our existing resources?”.
Another challenge was understanding the difference between the American and Ugandan way of thinking. Often times, there was confusion on the meaning of words and actions and it took time to recognize that it was necessary for all parties to make sure that the other person was on the same page.
Our largest accomplishment was the recognition of TOCI as a sustainable and growing community based organization. Not only did TOCI transform from being an unknown, grassroots organization to being recognized as a leader in the community for water and sanitation, but also TOCI learned skills necessary for the organization that led to increased sustainability (from income generating projects to grants). TOCI also took responsibility and has continued to organize large scale events in the community to promote education and awareness for orphans, and to help women access health care services. The number of children TOCI supports grew from 43 to 100 in 2011-2013, and now TOCI is partnering with SOS Children’s Villages to oversee children supported by SOS Children’s Villages.
How can people get involved with your organization or in in their own communities? If someone is interested in getting involved with TOCI, they can visit our website at www.tociuganda.org.
TOCI is always looking for volunteers both in Uganda and abroad (you can help as a consultant) and also appreciates support financially and through in-kind donations. People can also support TOCI by purchasing local crafts through www.twerwaneho.etsy.com.
If someone is interested in getting involved in their own communities, I think the best thing to do is to observe what the strengths and weaknesses of their community are, the community’s goals, and how the individual can actually help the community to meet their goals. While the individual is there to help and guide within the community, the whole process should be about the community and not the individual. I think the most important thing to remember is that sustainable change comes from within. The community must want the change and have a responsibility for that change otherwise it either won’t happen or it won’t be a sustainable change.
Learn more at: www.tociuganda.org.
Follow them on Facebook: Facebook.com/twerwaneho
Support TOCI by shopping for local Ugandan arts at: www.twerwaneho.etsy.com