In mid-2005, with the help of Anna, a dedicated MFS teacher, Mario and Sandra of Miles for Smiles were introduced to the dire plight of many poor families living in outlying slum areas. Garbage and open sewage lined the dirt roads. Raggedy-looking children peered out from mud shacks while women cooked their meager meals on open fires nearby. The grim living conditions were in distinct contrast to the “big city” of Arusha only a few miles away where new buildings were springing up all around and shiny new cars and cellphones were becoming more commonplace. Stories of suffering, abject poverty and lack of basic medical care, rape, AIDS and abandonment were all too common and a frightening reality for this impoverished slum community.
The sad situation revealed young orphaned teenagers whose circumstances had forced them to leave school prematurely to help provide for their younger siblings. Meanwhile, in tiny mud huts, sickly grandmothers cared for their young grandchildren, left orphaned by their parents succumbing to AIDS. All around, signs of poverty’s vicious grip were visibly etched in this village, mostly comprised of stick-and-mud huts.
Yet, in the midst of such suffering there were those like Anna, a single mother with a heart of gold, who was doing the little she could to help those in need. The Bellaviti’s immediately determined to help find positive solutions for change, and are continuing to actively labor to alleviate the suffering and restore hope for this downtrodden community.
In late 2005, MFS opened a small community center called The “Urafiki” or “Friendship” Center. Via an initial screening process, the most eligible recipients were selected. Now a haven for these children, the center promotes a warm and caring family environment where everyone is loved and encouraged to contribute and help one another. The children, some as young as 3, will remain actively enrolled in the program until they graduate from highschool and have secured employment or further educational opportunities.
The Urafiki Center has grown and expanded to provide programs and activities in four basic areas:
By providing support for physical, educational and emotional needs, lives are being touched, futures reshaped, and hope restored for approximately 60 children, teenagers and their families.