The members of the Lake Oswego Rotary Club are optimistic they will soon be planting a seed that will grow into a forest of health and prosperity in Tanzania, Africa.
The opportunity to do this came on April 25 when Rotary International announced that the local club would receive a 3H grant in the amount of $283,000.
Never before has an Oregon-Washington based Rotary International Club received such a large grant, according to Roger May, chairman of the Lake Oswego club's international committee, who noted, 'It's taken us 100 years to get such a grant.'
That is a long time to wait for anything. But the prospects for success, as outlined by May, are pretty staggering.
What the grant will help 340 families in the Masoko Ward in Tanzania obtain is pretty modest on a per-family basis: A piglet and $125 so an adopted orphan can go to school. But this project, called the Tanzanian Orphan Children's Project, has the potential to transform an area ravaged by HIV/AIDS and poverty.
'This project is a perfect fit for a 3H grant with Rotary International,' May said. 'It's a difficult project with a multi-dimensional structure, but you need that structure to be successful in Africa.
'For decades, money was thrown at Africa, and money alone won't solve problems.'
The Lake Oswego Rotary project has an excellent chance to succeed thanks to Barry Childs. A Lake Oswego club member and a resident of West Linn, Childs was born and raised in Tanzania. A trip to the ravaged area a few years ago stunned Childs into making a life-changing decision to start a farm cooperative project in the Isongole Ward, which he called Africa Bridge.
'It was extremely successful,' May said. 'We asked Barry if it could be replicated somewhere else. He said it could.'
The problems that will be faced are monumental, which is perhaps the biggest reason why the Lake Oswego Rotarians received the grant.
'This project will address all the issues called for in a 3H grant,' May said. 'Health, hunger and humanity.'
Problem No. 1, of course, is HIV/AIDS. In the Masoko Ward, 38 percent of the people are afflicted with the disease. Because of so many resulting deaths, 10 percent of the children are orphans.
'Can you imagine 10 percent of the children in Lake Oswego being orphans?' May said. 'Economically, that would bring this city to its knees, and this is a rich community. They have a per capita income of 70 cents a day.'
While 10 percent is bad enough, May noted that in some of the school classrooms half of the children are orphans.
May got a good firsthand idea of how great the orphan problem is in Masoko Ward. When Lake Oswego Rotary first applied for the grant in March of last year, there were 796 orphans in the ward. When he and Childs traveled there last October, along with fellow LO Rotarians Sharon Starr and Carol Winston, the number had already grown to 830. Now the number is pushing up to 900.
However, with this grant, the Rotarians will enable these children to be adopted into homes and sent to school, plus start those families on the road to economic stability with 17 agricultural and animal cooperatives. In three years, if things progress as expected, these families will be self sustaining.
One question about this arrangement: Why will orphan children be placed in families?
'Orphanages were not working,' May said. 'It was like warehousing children. In families they will receive the kind of nurturing that they need.'
Life in Masoko Ward has a chance to be good, thanks to the Lake Oswego Rotary Club grant. But what makes the future even more fascinating is the chance that the Tanzanian Orphan Children's Project will continue to influence neighboring wards into doing the same kinds of practices with animals and agriculture.
May can believe this because of a similar Rotary 3H grant to Indonesia. It resulted in the Polio Plus Campaign and the virtual elimination of the disease over the entire world.
'I think this can be a social model for the elimination of HIV/AIDS in Africa,' May said.
As all of this happens, May and other Lake Oswego Rotarians will be on the scene.
'I expect to be there once a year,' May said.