|Guest Blog by Bekka Ross Russell|
Executive Director, The Small Things
I have poured the last four years of my life, night and day, into the creation of our NGO – and now am working towards putting that same NGO out of business. My name is Bekka, and I’m the founder and Executive Director of a US and UK registered charity called The Small Things (TST),which supports orphaned and vulnerable children in a little Tanzanian village called Nkoaranga. TST came to life in 2010 when a group of volunteers saw a need for improvement and support at the Nkoaranga Orphanage and its surrounding community, and decided to jump in and start getting our hands dirty to see if we could help this community to create a better life for these truly incredible kids.
TST started off by providing financial and project support on an as-needed basis – raising funds to re-wire the very dangerous electrical system, providing the orphanage with an accessible system for clean drinking water, and paying for additional staff members. Four years later, I live on the ground full time with my family, and TST runs the orphanage volunteer system, employs more than 20 staff split between office and caretaking tasks, and has expanded beyond our partnership with Nkoaranga Orphanage to create a children’s village for older kids as well as an outreach program to keep kids in families whenever possible. We’ve partnered with over a thousand individual donors to feed, house, educate, and keep happy and healthy the more than 35 children TST directly supports, and the many other families we impact through employment and outreach. Up until this past summer, all of TST’s activities have been focused on providing better living conditions for the orphaned and vulnerable children TST supports; trying to provide these children with a better and brighter future. In business terms, we’ve always focused on how we can provide our beneficiaries (the children), with better services (quality of life). Now, TST is adding a new approach, attacking the same problem from another angle. This past summer, we’ve introduced a new project, No More Orphans (NMO). This project takes a public health approach in increasing the quality of life for the future children of Nkoaranga – and hopefully putting us out of business.
Currently, one of the leading causes of maternal mortality during childbirth is post-partum hemorrhage (PPH). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), PPH is responsible for as many as a quarter of all maternal deaths in the developing world. Death from PPH rarely occurs in hospitals, as mothers receive an injection of oxytocin shortly after birth, which causes blood vessels to contract and stops bleeding. However, for the many women who give birth in villages far from a hospital and helped by traditional birth attendants, there is no one able to administer intravenous oxytocin, resulting in the appalling numbers of orphaned children in Tanzania from PPH.Thankfully, there’s an oral medication called Misoprostol which can act as a substitute for oxytocin, and reduce deaths from PPH by up to 50% (again according to the WHO). However, most traditional birth attendants in the villages haven’t even heard of it. That’s where our No More Orphans project comes in. By educating and training traditional birth attendants on the effects of misoprostol, and subsequently providing a distribution system of the drug to these community health workers, No More Orphans and similar projects can literally result in a community without orphans, making us obsolete.
In a perfect world, TST would be obsolete in 18 years, as all of the children living at the Nkoaranga Orphanage will have grown into happy, healthy, and educated adults, independently supporting themselves. Through simultaneous targeting maternal mortality in the community, we want to eliminate the long term need for an orphanage or a children’s village completely, putting TST out of business. Yes, the opportunity to close down everything we have fought and worked for over the past years would be a dream come true. If losing my job means happy children with healthy mothers, I’ll take it. Does that make me crazy? You tell me.