Africa Lifelines: Two U.S. Senators Want Their Country to Get More Involved to Help End a War That Has Killed 4 Million

Another 1,000 die daily

Goma, Congo – Militiamen from neighboring Rwanda barged into her
mud-brick hut at night. They stabbed and sliced Farijika Nzigire’s
husband to death. Then five men raped her. They burned the hut and
left her beaten and bloody.

Now, a year later, a baby girl, Ajibu, tugs at Nzigire’s tattered
shirt. “I don’t know who her father is,” she said looking down,
trying to coax milk from her depleted body here at a hospital in
eastern Congo.

Nzigire, 22, is part of a forgotten exodus, thousands of ragged
gang-raped women and other victims staggering from forests where
atrocities happen every day.

Nearly 4 million people have died in a war that began around 1998.
U.S. officials estimate 1,000 more die each day across a
Europe-sized area.

Such is the suffering that two U.S. senators who visited Goma this
month – Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. – want the
United States to get more involved. Brownback said he’s working on
legislation, with help from Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., that would
send $200 million to $300 million a year to Congo for basic needs
such as access to safe water.

Brownback said his visit also has inspired a broader initiative to
overhaul U.S. Africa policy. He proposed designating an “Africa
aid czar” in the State Department as part of an overhaul that
would shore up scattershot aid efforts, aligning projects more
closely with African self-help efforts.

“We’re the most powerful nation on Earth, and yet we’ve got this
number of deaths taking place daily that are preventable,”
Brownback said. “We have a responsibility to do what we can to

West pushes for elections

U.S. and European government officials say they’ve been trying to
help stabilize Congo – Africa’s third-most-populous country with 60
million people, a fourth the size of the United States – by
encouraging elections.

But no U.S. or European troops participate in United Nations
peacekeeping work. A U.N. Security Council deadline for disarming
militias passed at the end of September – and the killing

“The tragedy is certainly apparent to everyone,” said Christopher
Davis, spokesman at the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital.
“Our feeling is the U.N., with the 17,000 contingent it has in
Congo, is quite capable of helping the Congolese army do what it
needs to do to bring these militias under control.”

Most urgently for Nzigire, she leaks urine because the rapes
ruptured her vagina. Congolese doctors at the hospital planned to
perform reconstructive surgery.

Despicable war tactic

Gang rapes have become a war tactic. Tens of thousands of women
suffer from the ruptures known as fistula – once a rare injury
associated with traumatic births but common now in Congo.

A private U.S.-based group, Doctors On Call for Service, has funded
more than 150 fistula-repair surgeries in Goma, a former Belgian
colonial town that Denver Post journalists visited in September.

“I don’t feel like a normal person,” Nzigire said. “I feel my
heart beating hard, fast. I try to sleep. …The war is still

In 1998, Congo became the battleground for six nations in a war
that killed 50,000 people, and 4 million more died from
conflict-induced hunger and disease – the most deaths from a
conflict since World War II.

A peace deal in 2003 recognized warring factions and scheduled
elections. U.N. peacekeepers deployed to towns. But violence in
Congo’s hinterlands – mostly roadless, lacking electricity and
phone lines – repeatedly has prevented those elections.

Violence also blocks international aid crews from reaching forests
where thousands of women and children are stranded, said Carla
Martinez, operations chief for Doctors Without Borders’ 35-member
team, inside a fortified compound.Much of the killing and raping is
done by rebels from Rwanda who fled after the genocide in 1994 when
Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, seized power. The rebels
re-organized inside Congo at French-run U.N. refugee camps.

Parliamentarians from Uganda, Congo and Rwanda met recently,
calling for expulsion of the Rwandan rebels. Kagame has refused to
take them back. The United States backs Kagame’s authoritarian

U.S. diplomats say they help organize meetings in the region
without taking part. The United States currently gives no bilateral
aid to Congo, but contributes about $100 million a year to
international relief operations.

Businesses buy security

Amid the killing, foreign-financed mining companies still extract
gold, diamonds and coltan, an ore used in cellphones and laptop
computers, because the companies can afford private security forces
to hold off armed factions and “mai-mai” bandits. A U.S. company,
Phoenix-based Phelps Dodge Corp., last month began a copper and
cobalt mining project in southern Congo.

Meanwhile, warlords target subsistence-farming villagers like
Nzigire and her husband.

U.N. reports this year referred to atrocities nobody has been able
to investigate fully, including an incident in which militiamen
allegedly grilled bodies on a spit and boiled two girls alive as
their mother watched.

Here behind blue metal gates, Dr. Flory Cirimwami, 29, a surgeon,
described incidents he’d learned of through patients south of Goma
near Bukavu. Militiamen buried a girl up to her neck after raping
her, tortured an 80-year-old woman, and sexually assaulted two
women with knives, boots and sticks after raping them, Cirimwami

“The misery of people here is unbelievable, unimaginable. … I
always feel the cry of helpless people here as a heavy burden for

Global policy experts increasingly raise concerns about instability
in Africa as terrorism spreads and African oil production grows. A
recent report from the Council on Foreign Relations think tank
calls for new U.S. efforts to integrate Africa into the world
economy by removing trade barriers.

“The United States cannot afford to let another decade go by
without effective solutions,” the CFR task force said, “and
Africa deserves better.”

Africa Lifelines: Peace Through Empowerment

Muramba, Rwanda – Thunderclouds rolled in from Congo across Rwanda’s red-and-green checkerboard hills, newly planted with corn.

At the Muramba girls high school, students in prim blue skirts
flocked from concrete classrooms to the cafeteria and bowed their heads
over books. Periodic tables. Algebra. English. Anything to get

Here in 1997, men with machetes slaughtered 17 schoolgirls who refused their command to separate into Hutu and Tutsi tribal groups – one episode in the violence killing millions around Africa.

Musing in a patch of sunlight outside the cafeteria, Sister Marie
Donata, ever protective, tried to remain optimistic.

A private Colorado-based group, Engineers Without Borders, is
trying through small-scale power and water projects to encourage
Donata’s girls and 25,000 surrounding villagers to avoid conflict
and violence by improving living conditions. The engineers are
installing solar panels, for example, like the one that provides
the electricity lighting the cafeteria.

Still, Donata winced. She looked at the hills where barefoot
families on overcrowded land compete for space to grow enough food
and eke out an existence, while militias in neighboring Congo keep

“If the poverty is not reduced,” said Donata, 47, who lost
relatives in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, “it will happen again.”

Everywhere, memories gnaw. Villagers veer between normalcy and

“I remember my mother was killed when she was holding me,”
Monique Kubwumukiza, 11, said quietly, fidgeting with her feet and
hugging her sides. That happened in 1998, when Monique was 4.
“They were chopping her eyes and teeth. She died a very painful

After the men killed her mother, Monique ran to an aunt. Then the
men killed the aunt.

Now, as a fourth-grader, Monique writes and draws neatly but seldom
speaks. She refuses to eat, other than nibbling at nuts and corn.

“I’m afraid people will come and kill us,” she said. “So now I
am always telling my brothers and sisters we should not sleep in
the house. We should go sleep in the forest.”

Frances Feeney of Denver was amazed when she visited Muramba in
2003 and saw that villagers had begun self-help projects, producing
soap and honey, weaving mats, hammering furniture. Back in Denver,
Feeney shared what she’d seen with Bernard Amadei, a civil engineer
at the University of Colorado in Boulder who in 2001 founded
Engineers Without Borders USA.

Amadei embraced the challenge of helping villagers whose world
seemed intolerably out of balance. “What is good and bad there? …
We need to empower them with healthy ways of expressing their

Donated medical supplies for Rwanda from another Colorado- based
group, Project Cure, helped win support from Rwanda’s government
for work at Muramba, located in rugged country near volcanoes.
President Paul Kagame visited Denver last year as part of a tour
commemorating Rwanda’s genocide. His government plans to fix the
road so that cars can reach Muramba.

“Small projects that are well thought out and appropriate for
communities can go a long way,” Amadei said. “This decentralized
assistance will solve problems. There’s no corruption involved. The
philosophy of Engineers Without Borders is to be small, under the
radar screen, a stealth approach to international development.”

At headquarters in Longmont, the engineers’ project manager, Meg
VanSciver, fields proposals from villagers all over Africa. The
group relies on private donations of about $500,000 a year.

E-mail and cellphones open new possibilities for villagers to
bypass governments and get help, said VanSciver, a former Peace
Corps worker.

In Muramba, Sister Donata’s colleague, the Rev. John Bosco, 38, a
missionary from Uganda, hustles from project to project.

At one stop, a woman knew the neighbor who slit her husband’s
throat in the genocide. She’d worked out peace with this man.

Now, she wanted to know what she should do at the government- run
“gacaca” – grassroots – public tribunals that began in the area
this year. The tribunals are meant to encourage reconciliation in
villages. She is required to attend and publicly accuse the man of
killing her husband. She worried that this could only bring trouble
to her and her children.

“What would you say to her?” Bosco said.

Then he hurried to a meeting with HIV-infected villagers jockeying
for dwindling sacks of emergency-relief corn meal, and to a
vocational school where a new solar panel from Colorado powers
computers in an administrative office. Farmer Winceslas
Muhawenimana, 40, a father of six who had formed a work crew, was
hoisting rocks and plunging a pick into a steep hillside to clear a
foundation for a new furniture workshop at the school.

An orphan, Pascal, 14, tugged at Bosco’s leg. Pascal lived alone in
a crumbling dirt-floor hut with his brother, Evarist, 7, who had
contracted HIV from their mother before she died in 2001. Their
father died in the war.

“I can’t go home; there’s no food,” Pascal said. Bosco promised
he would visit him later, and went to Pascal’s hut at dusk.

He found Pascal sitting alone in the darkness on a donated gray
blanket amid the fetid, muddy smell of feces. “A wildcat ate my
rabbits,” a distraught Pascal said.

Bosco had given him a pregnant female rabbit to raise in hopes the
boy might earn money for corn by selling rabbits. Villagers here
love rabbit meat.

When Pascal came home from school, he found the hut empty. He
searched banana groves nearby. In one, he found a feral cat chewing
the rabbit’s carcass.

Seemingly endless daily setbacks like this crush hopes. But village
elders say practical help from Americans inspires them.

“We have so many problems,” said Alphonse Nsangirana, 48, a
father of seven working with fellow farmers on a hillside to fire
red clay roof tiles in a homemade kiln.

He pointed at a newly dug ditch where visiting engineers told him
water pipes would be installed. Then, Nsangirana and families here
could drink safe water from a tap.

“If these projects are well done, and people get benefits of light
and water, there’s no doubt, there will be peace and joy,”
Nsangirana said.

“What’s missing is money,” Donata said. Sustained self-help
projects would mean “many who are frustrated could find a job and,
instead of fighting, resolve conflicts” over land.

That would help students study. And students “who pass exams can
help resolve conflicts all over our country,” she said.

Donata’s schoolgirls worked diligently to this end as she spoke.

The visiting Americans are friends who “help us to have a good
life,” said Pamela Iliza Turatsinze, 16. “We will be the future
ministers, presidents and engineers.”

Beside her, Angelique Tnyishime, 18, added: “If those engineers
keep helping us, we will make it to the university. We will graduate
into positions where we can begin to help these poor people.”


Here’s how to contact aid organizations whose work in Africa is reported on in the “Africa Lifelines” series:


Lundy Foundation
300 W. 11th Ave., Suite 15B
Denver, CO 80204
Phone: 303-825-0888, ext. 3
Fax: 303-595-8925

Africa Bridge
P.O. Box 115
Marylhurst, OR 97036-0115
Phone: 503-557-7245

Monday / Malawi

Water for People
6666 W. Quincy Ave.
Denver, CO 80235
Phone: 303-734-3490
Fax: 303-734-3499


Engineers Without Borders – USA
1880 Industrial Circle, Suite B-3
Longmont, CO 80501
Phone: 303-772-2723
Fax: 303-772-2699


Series reporter: Bruce Finley covers international affairs and
security for The Denver Post, which he joined in 1988. He has
reported from more than 30 nations, including his third tour in
Iraq with a U.S. combat unit earlier this year. This is Finley’s
fifth Africa assignment.

He grew up in Colorado, graduated from Stanford University in 1984
and earned master’s degrees in international relations as a
Fulbright scholar in Britain and in journalism at NorthwesternUniversity.

Finley can be reached at

Series photographer: Helen H. Richardson previously traveled to
Thailand and Indonesia to cover the South Asian tsunami and to Rome
for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, among other overseas
assignments for The Post, which she joined in 1993. Her freelance
work has appeared in The New York Times and Christian Science

Richardson grew up in Aspen and graduated from Parsons School of
Design in New York.

Richardson can be reached at

Series editor: Mark Harden

Photo editor: Larry C. Price

Copy editor: Eddie Chuculate

Maps and graphics: Severiano Galván

Multimedia producers: Doug Conarroe, Demetria Gallegos



Cellphones, e-mail and migrants are connecting rural Africa with
urban America, creating new possibilities for action to address
Africa’s pressing problems. Private groups in Colorado and
elsewhere are reaching the villages where two-thirds of Africans
live. “Africa Lifelines,” a three-day Denver Post series,
explores these efforts.

Some quoted material in these reports was translated from Swahili,
Tambuka, Kinyarwanda and local dialects.

Africa Lifelines: Water, Stuff of Life, Death

Africa Lifelines: A THREE-DAY SERIES

Engucwini, Malawi – Five times a day, Agnes Munthali hikes barefoot half a mile from a grass-roofed hut to fetch water for her thirsty children, balancing a sloshing 5-gallon bucket on her head. Corn barely sprouts from surrounding fields. Nearly half of Malawi’s 12 million people face starvation.

But water needs gnaw most urgently here and across rural Africa,
where 303 million villagers lack access to a safe source.
Waterborne disease kills thousands every day.

Munthali and others carry the buckets, weighing up to 45 pounds,
using bone, muscle and sheer will, while the gray Zombwe Mountains
loom in the distance.

On a recent clear morning, Munthali, a vivacious 35-year-old whose
smile reveals a missing front tooth, shrieked with laughter at an
outsider’s suggestion that the government will address water woes.

For villagers, government “doesn’t work,” Munthali said.
Villagers can’t even approach politicians, she said. If one did,
politicians “would turn him down.”

As it is, Munthali and her water- carrying neighbors consider
themselves lucky.

For the first time in years, the water they haul is clean – not
because Malawi’s government helped, but because Engucwini connected
with a private group of Americans half a world away.

The villagers teamed up with Water for People, a Denver-based group
that funds self-help projects. This year, the group arranged for
installation of a 150-foot-deep well within a mile of Munthali’s
mud-brick hut.

“I’m very happy about this,” she said.

More than 2,000 villagers a day flock to this well for clean water.
Previously, they had no choice but to drink contaminated water from
hand-dug pits.

Americans may assume the world’s poorest people suffer silently,
but more and more are able to ask for help using cellphones, e-mail
and other connections, circumventing corrupt or cumbersome
governments, said Solomon Nkiwane, a Zimbabwean political scientist
at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.

Villagers increasingly form committees and pursue their interests
anywhere they can find help, Nkiwane said.

“This people-to-people thing is beginning. It may be a drop in the
bucket. But maybe this is the approach we should take,” he said.

Malawian life expectancy has fallen from 42 years in the 1970s to
39 in recent years because of AIDS and diseases caused by
contaminated water. And income is falling. Farmers in this area
earn about $8 a month.

The project began a few years ago when the local doctor, Steven
Chavinda, 65, called chiefs together and asked: “What are your
greatest needs?” All the chiefs said the same thing: clean water.
One chief, Mishek Ndzima, had lost his son to cholera, spread by
feces in water.

Chavinda told a U.S. Peace Corps worker posted nearby, who informed
a Malawian who worked as regional coordinator for Water for People.
That led to installation over the past 18 months of two wells at a
cost of $25,000. Denver-based supervisors lined up a local crew to
drill the holes and oversee maintenance training.

“The best solutions come from sitting down as close to the problem
as possible and talking with the people,” said Steve Werner,
executive director of Water for People, at his headquarters in

Villagers worldwide propose dozens of projects each month, often
learning of the group through the Internet. Werner and 20 staffers
in five countries review all proposals. Sponsored by the American
Waterworks Association trade group, they fund what they can on an
annual budget of around $2.8 million: about 80 projects, including
40 wells from Bolivia to Vietnam.

In Malawi, the first of the two wells helped revive the local
health clinic. The clinic, built in 1984, for years offered only
limited services because of a lack of water. Government officials
never supplied medicine as they do at other rural clinics. Radios
for emergency communications weren’t maintained. A 10-bed maternity
wing never opened.

This year, villagers notified health officials that the clinic has
water from a foreign-funded well with a solar-powered pump. And
health-ministry crews delivered mattresses for maternity beds, said
Manford Nyirenda, 49, chairman of the village water committee.

“We pushed them into action,” Nyirenda said, smiling, finger on
the pump power switch.

At the other well, Munthali gripped a hand pump and pushed up and
down as the noon sun beat down. Clear water gushed from the tap.

Women and girls took turns filling blue and orange buckets,
chattering. Between buckets, girls jockeyed to drink from the tap,
including Munthali’s pride and joy, Memory, 8, in a torn red

Last year, Memory got sick after drinking contaminated water from a
shallow well. “Very bad for her,” Munthali said. Purifying water
by boiling was impractical, given limited wood in the area.

Most of the 18,000 villagers around Engucwini still rely on water
drawn from hand-dug pits. Cloudy, stagnant pools in the pits
contain bacteria that cause cholera and diarrhea, known locally as
“open bowels.”

Malarial mosquitoes breed in mud around the pools. Women wash
clothes close by.

At the health clinic, the doctor Chavinda recently faced Ester
Chiumia, 32, cradling her dehydrated month-old son, Samuel. She had
walked since sunrise to reach Chavinda in his concrete building
without electricity. Now it was noon.

Gazing down at her baby, Chiumia said Samuel had bloody diarrhea
and no appetite.

Chavinda looked at her silently at first. At that moment, he lacked
the right medication. He saw Chiumia practically shaking with fear.
He gave her a folded piece of paper containing a couple tablets of
an adult antibiotic – the closest substitute he could find – with
instructions to cut each pill in half.

Chiumia nodded, still worried. She told the doctor the water she
hauls “looks dark. … We have no choice.”

At least 150 villagers die around Engucwini each year from easily
preventable sickness from contaminated water, Chavinda said. Deaths
decreased a bit recently in the area around Engucwini’s two new
wells, he said, “but we’ve got a lot more work to do.” He
reckoned Engucwini needs at least 20 wells.

Today, girls skip school to join the stoic parade of women hauling
water. And mothers are resigned that contaminated water will kill

“We do take chances here,” one woman said, watching her
granddaughter, Tiyese Chirwa, climb down a log into a muddy pit and
dip her bucket into a plate-sized milky pool of water.

Some villagers here struggle to find water at all. At an outlying
area called Chileda, there are no wells within 5 miles for an
estimated 5,000 people. For them, even marginal water is precious.

Barefoot boys in raggedy clothes were there, some with bellies
bloated from malnourishment, crouched around a drying water hole.
They had been digging it out a bit trying to coax more water from
the ground. A saucer-sized cloudy white pool of water only grew
more opaque.

Desperate, Chileda chiefs recently dispatched Frank Kumwenda, 29,
to go to the regional capital, Mzuzu, for help.

He set out by bicycle at 4 a.m., bouncing down a dirt road. He
pedaled furiously, crossed the sewage-contaminated Kasitu River
before anybody was up and reached the pavement of Malawi’s main
north-south road.

Then, moving along faster, he noticed some roadside villages had
wells. “I compared them to us,” Kumwenda said. “We are still

Kumwenda drank from one well, savoring the water on his journey.

He reached Mzuzu and its government offices by 9 a.m.

“I found the secretary,” Kumwenda said.

He announced that he had come to get help for his village.

“The secretary said, ‘The boss is not in the office,”‘ he said.

When he rode home that afternoon after a fruitless wait and told
what had happened, the chiefs were angry.

Kumwenda planned to try again soon.

Meanwhile, Munthali, sitting with relatives at their tidy farm
compound, said she wants to be part of a local maintenance team to
make sure the new wells work properly.

Men had assumed they would travel for maintenance training, but
Munthali said, “We’ll need a good mix.” After all, women haul
most of the water.

And while acknowledging the pressing needs of villagers at Chileda,
she also proposed drilling a new well closer to her home.

Today, even with a clean water source a half mile away, she and
Memory still must devote much of each day to trekking back and

In America, “people have a much easier life,” Munthali said.
“How can that happen here?”



Cellphones, e-mail and migrants are connecting rural Africa with
urban America, creating new possibilities for action to address
Africa’s pressing problems. Private groups in Colorado and
elsewhere are reaching the villages where two-thirds of Africans
live. “Africa Lifelines,” a three-day Denver Post series,
explores these efforts.

Africa Lifelines: FBI Cultivating Africans as Security Teammates

Denver agent training Kenyan officers in forensics The U.S. views Africa with interest as a frontier for terrorism, but any military acts can stoke resentment.

Nairobi, Kenya – Nine thousand miles from his home in Denver, FBI Special Agent Carle Schlaff faced 60 top African detectives packed into a room in Nairobi as part of a new U.S. focus on Africa.

Schlaff’s mission: to work with these African counterparts on
forensics and cultivate them as security partners.

The U.S. government views Africa with renewed interest as a
frontier for terrorism where al-Qaeda and other Islamic radicals
hide. Africa also supplies a growing share of the oil Americans
consume – nearly a fifth.

Terrorists in Africa could affect U.S. interests and organize
attacks inside the United States, said William Bellamy, U.S.
ambassador to Kenya.

“We try to monitor as best we can” airport travelers to prevent
terrorists from entering America, he said. “But I would not
exclude the possibility that could occur. … It’s certainly

Kenyan police recently found anti-tank missiles – some U.S.-made – in a terrorism suspect’s apartment at Mombasa, Kenya.

The U.S. priority in Africa of combating global terrorism has led
President Bush to deploy military forces at a growing network of
bases from Algeria to Uganda – in a pattern Bush set after the
Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

About 1,600 U.S. soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors are posted
in Djibouti at a base called Camp Lemonier, a former French Foreign
Legion outpost. It is the first large long-term deployment of U.S.
forces to Africa.

Bush also sent special forces soldiers to Mali, Chad and Niger for
exercises with local forces against radical Muslims.

And U.S. officials have delivered more than $152 million in weapons
to sub-Saharan Africa since 2001, up from $92 million during the
previous four years.

But the military approach stokes resentment. African leaders say
they’re more interested in fighting worsening poverty than serving
U.S. interests.

African authorities believe young men were willing to join
anti-U.S. groups “because they had no jobs,” said Nicholas
Kamwende, commander of the Kenyan National Police anti-terrorism unit.

“We think fighting poverty is one of our ways of fighting
terrorism,” he said.

Kamwende said the United States traditionally has used skillful
diplomacy and developmental aid to help Africa address water,
health care and economic needs.

Tensions are mounting. Kenyan courts recently acquitted several
terrorism suspects indicted in the United States, and Kenyan
lawmakers have refused to pass an anti-terrorism law.

U.S. State Department officials say savvy cops such as Schlaff, who
also has worked in Botswana and the Red Sea area, can be more
effective than soldiers in helping locals root out terrorists.

In a spartan conference hall in Nairobi, Schlaff wore a sport shirt
and slacks instead of the camouflage fatigues that mark most U.S.

He smiled the way he might over coffee back home as the African
detectives in coats and ties stood quiet. He handed out FBI pins,
patches, fingerprint kits and cameras. He showed photos of his
family in the Colorado mountains.

He told of his forensics work on the FBI team that investigated the
bombing of the USS Cole warship that killed 17 sailors. Schlaff
helped dredge the harbor off Yemen and found part of an outboard
motor that cracked the case.

The attentiveness of Kenyan police officers impressed him, Schlaff

“Their focus is street crime. We’re not suggesting a different
focus. We’re just trying to make them aware there could be a
terrorism matter involved.”

Now, Schlaff is back in the United States. But detectives he
coached are working in Eastleigh, a Somali-run ghetto on the
outskirts of Nairobi, trying to recruit sources, offering money for

They’ve discovered funds flowing from Somalia to Eastleigh for
construction of shopping malls. They’re investigating who might be
sinking roots or raising money in Kenya.

These efforts bore out Schlaff’s conclusions. Street-

level police when treated with respect “are genuinely interested
in working with us” against terrorism, he said.

“If you want to convince people Americans are not the aggressor, I
think you’ve got to do it by being there low on the ground.”

Africa Lifelines: Orphaned by AIDS…Embraced by Strangers

Idweli, Tanzania – From the back of a lantern-lit schoolroom at a rural orphanage, Fodi Julius fixed his shining eyes on the blackboard. He was fighting exhaustion and trying to please his parents.

They died three years ago, leaving Fodi, 11, and his brother,
Nhambo, 8, among Africa’s 12.3 million children who’ve lost parents
to AIDS.

Their mom and dad’s final advice: Do well in school, because
survival depends on it.

Before moving to the orphanage, Fodi and Nhambo rose each morning
from their mats by a fire pit in their crumbling mud-brick hut.
They straightened their smudged school uniforms. Their small
fingers wove grass in place of lost buttons to fasten tattered

The boys set out barefoot and without breakfast down the dirt path
to school. At lunch break, while others ate, they waited. Finally,
when the teacher dismissed them for the day, Fodi and Nhambo
wandered through farm fields, foraging for food.

“We’d get leaves,” Fodi said. He weighs 48 pounds, half the
weight of others his age.

He mixed those green leaves with water and urged Nhambo to eat, no
matter how bad the leaves tasted or how sad he felt.

“I’d just tell him: ‘She died. There’s nothing we can do about
it.’ I’d tell him: ‘Even if you cry, she’s not coming back. So we
should stop crying and do what we have to do.”‘

But now, after three years on their own, Fodi and Nhambo have beds,
meals and basic instruction at an experimental children’s center
where they live with 56 other orphans on the outskirts of this
dusty, Swahili-speaking village.

Americans half a world away in Colorado and Oregon set up the
center – stepping in where governments and big charities had done

As the world grows more intertwined, African villagers mired in
disease, poverty and conflict – and those who want to help them –
are discovering new ways to connect, bypassing Africa’s
corruption-crippled governments and Western bureaucrats.

Television, radio and reports from migrant sons and daughters have
whetted village appetites for better living conditions. The recent
arrival of cellphones and e-mail in rural hubs encourages direct
links with Americans.

Help began with an e-mail

Here at Idweli, whose 1,300 people include more than 200 orphans,
the children’s center where Fodi now finds full plates of rice and
potatoes began with a simple e-mail.

Godfrey Mahenge, a student from Idweli studying medicine in
Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, five years ago vowed to do
something to help orphans back home. He’d told elders of his plans.
They’d dismissed him as a dreamer.

Mahenge drowned five years ago while swimming in the ocean. But his
girlfriend, Neema Mgana, kept sending e-mail queries to groups
outside Africa. One e-mail reached Barry Childs, 61, a corporate
executive turned philanthropist in Oregon who’d formed the group
Africa Bridge to try to help villagers.

Instead of dismissing the message as just another African e-mail
scam, Childs asked for details. He paid for Mgana to visit him.

Childs enlisted Vic Dukay, 49, a former aviation-business owner in
Denver with experience running AIDS projects, to work with him at
Idweli. Their first visits in 2002 focused on listening to children
and village elders.

“You want to be useful,” said Dukay, a heavyset, jovial man prone
to overworking himself. Orphaned at age 15, he was later moved to
tears as he sat with kids unsure where they’d find their next meal
and who habitually raised their hands before speaking.

“It took me back instantly to when I was 15,” he said. “That
look in the eye, body language, speech, that low, soft voice,
wanting to be in the back of the room away from everybody, not
wanting to be seen. You look in their eyes. Have you ever seen
anybody really sad? I can see sadness in somebody’s eyes. …
Probably from looking at myself.”

Dukay and Childs guided construction of the center, five ochre-hued
buildings with cement-and-stone foundations. Village men did the
work. There’s no electricity or running water.

This year, the Rockefeller Foundation awarded Dukay a grant to
assess whether the children’s center is meeting village needs. He
led an evaluation team, including psychologists and social workers,
on his 10th visit to Idweli this fall – feeling “more alive than
I’ve ever felt,” he said.

Staving off extremists

Sustaining this children’s center, and possibly replicating it
elsewhere, is more than a humanitarian effort, Dukay said. Security
analysts worry that Africa’s millions of desperate AIDS orphans
will join jobless urban masses adrift and vulnerable to extremists
who could lure them into violence.

“Where best to recruit?” Dukay said. “Out here in the
hinterlands where there is no security.”

He watched Fodi playing soccer in donated white sneakers, fighting
hard for the ball against bigger players, despite his physical
weakness after three years of eating very little. Nhambo, solitary
and silent, played a bit, too.

Any chore, Fodi volunteered. He hauled a 16-foot-long bamboo pole
for a mile to help cooks who were building a shelf.

Life’s better now than before, Fodi said, recalling how taunts from
children with parents tormented him.

“I’d leave, go sit someplace alone. Very bad to hear. I thought:
‘This will happen many times in my life. People will always be
telling me I am an orphan.”‘

Far more typical across Africa today are orphaned children who
raise other children with no help. Village elders are overwhelmed.
Nearby at the village of Ndulamo, three teenage girls – Shida
Mahenge, 16, and her sisters, Ona, 14, and Rehema, 12 – huddled
together at sunset. When they beg for food from neighbors, “people
cannot give,” Shida said.

For five years after AIDS killed their father and then their
mother, Shida served as surrogate parent and caretaker, insisting
that Ona and Rehema stay in school.

“I’m always telling them they need to behave and to listen to
their teacher and when they don’t understand, to ask questions,”
she said.

She deals with food. Working to earn money means enduring
harassment from boys and men unaccustomed to working with a girl.
First, Shida broke rock into gravel that villagers sell to road
crews for maintenance.

“Very hard work. You have to carry the rocks. It takes a long time
with the hammer to break the rocks into small stones. Now, I work
carrying timber. I think it might be better.”

But this night they had no food or wood to burn and stay warm. The
girls huddled silently in the cold, blue darkness. They were
hungry, barely able to think about their dreams of attending a
vocational school.

“We like to pray,” Shida said. “We have a very hard life now. We
pray to God to help us, so that we will not get sick. … We need
help to survive.”

HIV adds to struggles

Helping children such as this can be difficult because many are
infected with HIV, the virus causing AIDS. Doctors are scarce,
about one per 50,000 people in rural Tanzania, let alone anti-retroviral drugs for villagers.

At a German-run clinic nearby in Bolongwa, Dr. Rainer Brandl was
amazed to see a tiny, bloated girl, her feet swollen, staggering in
from a farm.

When he tested Veneranda Ganga, 13, he found she was HIV-positive with virtually no immunities. Doubting she’d survive,
Brandl put her on anti-retrovirals.

Veneranda gained strength. She began helping around the hospital,
cradling an abandoned 1-year-old girl. She told nurses she’d been
sick for years, after her father died of AIDS. Later, her mother
died, too, when Veneranda was 5. Before dying, she said, her mother
told her: “You must listen to other people. One day I will die,
and you must get along.”

Each day Veneranda retrieved water, washed dishes and took care of
her brother and an aunt’s two young children. This year, she grew
too weak to work. “I told my uncle, I better go to the

Frustrated and deluged with sick children, Brandl works on a
shoestring, unable to pay and keep staff. United Nations and U.S.
aid often funds workshops for doctors and social workers in cities,
drawing them away from urgent work in villages, he said.

“Nobody wants to work out here,” he said.

Orphans start to cope

At the Idweli children’s center, regular meals, chores and classes
let orphans begin coming to terms with their plight.

Vaileti Bonifasi, 14, who was 2 when her parents died, said she’d
been sneaking away to visit their graves, praying a bit, talking
and crying.

“I was walking back home from school thinking: ‘How can I not even
know what my mother looked like?”‘ Vaileti said. “I thought about
it all the way home. And I was lying on my bed. When I got up, the
ghost of my mother came to me. She was speaking to me. But I
couldn’t understand her.”

Godfrey Mahenge’s younger brother Elia, 21, told Vaileti she should
ask her brother Fred at the family house by the graves if he had a
photo of their mother. When they arrived, they found Fred standing
with his wife, Gloria, and their baby.

“There’s no picture” of their mother, Fred said. Instead, Fred
produced a wrinkled, laminated driver’s license showing their
father, who died in 1994. Vaileti clutched it but still wanted a
photo of her mother.

“I need to compare it with the face of the ghost,” she said.

Involving the villagers

The cost of the project at Idweli, including construction and
support for daily operations, has been about $300,000. Now Dukay’s
evaluation is focused on perceptions of villagers and the

“Are there any concerns?” Dukay asked recently in the meeting
hall, addressing village elders. “If there are any problems in
what we are doing, I would like to know directly.”

Some villagers benefit – such as Florence Doset, 39, a mother of
two who teaches at the center. She earns $50 a month.

“Because of these children, we have money,” she said. “So we’re

Others are bewildered. Orphans at the center suddenly enjoy better
living conditions and food than other children living with their
parents. Project supporters have begun to give small
“microcredit” loans to villagers.

Fodi is now studying as his parents advised, but the habit of
worrying about Nhambo is ingrained. He recently warned Elia that
Nhambo’s mind wanders in school.

But Fodi also was beginning to think about himself. In the
classroom where he sat recently in the early evening, he summoned
the last energy he had to hold his head up. Three lanterns cast a
golden light just bright enough to illuminate the blackboard. Elia
was teaching English, writing sentences – “You sing a song” – for
students to copy.

This was extra instruction to give the orphans a better chance at
school. Twenty boys, mostly older, were taking advantage.

And Fodi was especially resolute.

He wanted to be ready for competitive tests that determine who
qualifies for college.

“I want to be a teacher,” Fodi said. “Then I can help other



Series reporter: Bruce Finley covers international affairs and
security for The Denver Post, which he joined in 1988. He has
reported from more than 30 nations, including his third tour in
Iraq with a U.S. combat unit earlier this year. This is Finley’s
fifth Africa assignment.

He grew up in Colorado, graduated from Stanford University in 1984
and earned master’s degrees in international relations as a
Fulbright scholar in Britain and in journalism at NorthwesternUniversity.

Finley can be reached at

Series photographer: Helen H. Richardson previously traveled to
Thailand and Indonesia to cover the South Asian tsunami and to Rome
for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, among other overseas
assignments for The Post, which she joined in 1993. Her freelance
work has appeared in The New York Times and Christian Science

Richardson grew up in Aspen and graduated from Parsons School of
Design in New York.

Richardson can be reached at

Series editor: Mark Harden

Photo editor: Larry C. Price

Copy editor: Eddie Chuculate

Maps and graphics: Severiano Galván

Multimedia producers: Doug Conarroe, Demetria Gallegos



Cellphones, e-mail and migrants are connecting rural Africa with
urban America, creating new possibilities for action to address
Africa’s pressing problems. Private groups in Colorado and
elsewhere are reaching the villages where two-thirds of Africans
live. “Africa Lifelines,” a three-day Denver Post series,
explores these efforts.

Today: A Coloradan works in a Tanzanian village where the spread of
AIDS is leaving growing numbers of children parentless.

Also, a Denver FBI agent cultivates African police as partners
against terrorism.

Monday: Efforts by Colorado-based Water for People to drill wells in Malawi help
thousands who search daily for safe water.

Tuesday: Colorado engineers assist Rwandan schoolgirls quavering
from the horrors of war.

Some quoted material in these reports was translated from Swahili,
Tambuka, Kinyarwanda and local dialects.