In impoverished rural Tanzania, where there is no plumbing or electricity, many children and teens live in dire poverty, often with relatives or neighbors, having been orphaned at an early age as a result of abandonment or HIV.

Miles for Smiles (MFS) opened the “Urafiki” (means “friendship” in Kiswahili) after-school vocational center in 2005 to serve the most vulnerable children in the nearby slum, some as young as 3 years of age. Most of the children at the Urafiki center have had to cope with varying degrees of physical deprivation, loss, abandonment and other emotional trauma. MFS provides physical, educational and emotional support for approximately 60 destitute children and youth, with the goal to continue to do so until they graduate from high school and have secured employment or further educational opportunities.

The program offers vocational training in woodworking for the boys and tailoring for the girls, as well as computer basics, recreational and sports activities, health, hygiene and character building classes, and enriching excursions. Educational support includes sponsored tuition, uniforms and shoes for school-aged children, and a free kindergarten class at the center. Children are fed a daily meal and snacks, and food parcels are distributed.

Having access to education and training opportunities is vital to the children’s mental, social and emotional development and is an invaluable part of the solution to breaking the vicious cycle of poverty in the community. The MFS staff places great importance on building a supportive, caring foundation that will help the children transition positively into adulthood, striving to instill a sense of self-worth in each child and help them discover their unique inner potential. As a result, the children are happy, healthy and motivated to live full and positive lives, in spite of the harsh realities of their upbringing.