Dispatch From Tanzania: First Lady Laura Bush Visits Tanzania

Hemmed Lukonge, CRS Tanzania’s senior program officer for PEPFAR-funded projects for orphans and vulnerable children, shares his account of meeting First Lady Laura Bush and First Lady Salima Kikwete of Tanzania.

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Dr. Aisha Kigoda, Tanzania Deputy Minister for Health and Social Welfare, introduces the National Plan of Action to the First Ladies. Photo by Dan Griffin/CRS

Last week I was honored to meet First Lady Laura Bush and First Lady Salima Kikwete of Tanzania. These two admirable women launched Tanzania’s National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable Children this past Sunday, February 17, in Dar es Salaam.

The event was a celebration of the significant support these children are receiving — help that is enabling them to stay in school, stay healthy and thrive even in the absence of one or both parents. Government officers, donor agencies and implementing partners joined children and their caregivers in launching the new plan, with gift-giving, singing and dancing adding to the excitement.

Funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, also known as PEPFAR, is playing a large role in Tanzania’s comprehensive strategy for protecting orphans and vulnerable children nationwide. Through PEPFAR programs, more than 200,000 children affected by HIV are receiving critical support services; as an implementing PEPFAR partner in Tanzania, Catholic Relief Services is supporting almost 52,000 of these children.

After the launch of the plan, the First Ladies toured informational booths showing the breadth of support offered to children in need. At the booth demonstrating household care, I welcomed them both and showed them how nutritional support, microfinance initiatives and income-generation activities, including food processing, handicraft making and small-scale farming, are helping families affected by HIV to make ends meet.

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CRS’ Hemmed Lukonge shows the First Ladies of the U.S. and Tanzania crops grown by children and families affected by HIV. Photo by Amy Rumano/CRS

Mrs. Bush asked me about SILC, CRS’ innovative Savings and Internal Lending Communities, which she had learned of previously. I assured her that SILC is an important part of CRS’ programs in Tanzania, enabling poor families to improve their quality of life by saving small sums of money and accessing micro-loans for small business through pooled group savings.

I also shared with the First Ladies how PEPFAR-funded programs are improving the living environment of orphans in need through shelter enhancements and are increasing food supplies through home gardens. Both Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Kikwete were impressed by the pumpkins, cabbages, carrots and more grown by orphans and their caregivers.

“Through this partnership between Tanzania and the United States, we can restore lives and hope to orphans and their families,” Mrs. Bush said in a speech at the event. With the PEPFAR program now up for reauthorization by the U.S. Congress, we can only hope that this critical assistance and funding will continue for an additional five years and beyond.

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