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Doctor turns cancer into legacy to support Tanzanian orphans, families

By Ed Stannard

New Haven Register – Updated 11:37 am, Sunday, January 7, 2018
David with his grandson Simon in America, 2017

EAST HAVEN — On the day after Thanksgiving, Dr. David Ross Russell learned he was dying.

But his diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer only strengthened his resolve to make a difference in the lives of the Tanzanian children and families that he, his wife and daughter have been committed to for four years.

The Small Things, founded by Bekka Ross Russell, 30, in 2014, began as an orphanage in Nkoaranga, Tanzania, founded years ago by Martha Ayo, known as Mama Pendo, whose official position with the Small Things is “Head Mama.”

Bekka Ross Russell was volunteering in Tanzania when “I got introduced to this orphanage and I met the kids who would become my daughter and son, and I met Mama Pendo,” she said. Together they launched the Small Things, which has grown into an organization that cares for 50 children who have lost their mothers or other family members, reuniting as many families as possible. The Small Things includes a Family Preservation Program, helping more than 100 families stay together through micro-loans, education and business training.

David Ross Russell has lost 20 pounds since November and, while on chemotherapy, suffers from bloating, fatigue, nausea and hiccups. The chemo will extend his life to 10 or 12 months and he’s not in pain, he said. He’s taken a leave from his medical practice, but plans to make the most of the time he has left.

“The thing that I have found most impressive and powerful was that 10 minutes after the diagnosis, he was thinking about other people,” Bekka Ross Russell said. “He’s been consistently thinking about how to make the best of a terrible situation.”

The result is the David A. Ross Russell Legacy Fund, which the family hopes will bring more financial stability to The Small Things and a bright future to many more Tanzanian children.  READ MORE…



But Aren’t Those Kids Broken? Poverty Porn vs. Reality

I was just like most people once. When I decided to spend most of a year living and volunteering in Tanzania, I said early on that I didn’t want to do orphanage work. I love kids, always have, and for exactly that reason, I thought it would be too sad to be around traumatized, orphaned children. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

People tend, consciously or unconsciously, to put children into two categories – happy, healthy, normal kids like mine, and pathetic flyblown orphans who are somehow different – broken. It’s a defense mechanism against the terrifying recognition that any parent could be here today and gone tomorrow, and that it is a mere accident of birth that we are blessed to live in a place where that is less likely than it has ever been. And poverty porn is a tactic that charities have often consciously deployed – show the desperation, tug on people’s heartstrings, get the donations coming in based on guilt and pity. Here’s the thing though – those ads are wrong. The picture you have in your head of African orphans is wrong. READ MORE…

More about The Small Things in the News

#LoveMakesaFamily In Action

The Huffington Post – 05/13/2017 01:35 pm ET Updated May 13, 2017

I have the privilege to work with superheroes, every day. They don’t wear capes, they wear kangas – the traditional wax-printed fabric wrap worn around the waist or sewn into garments in Tanzania. You see, I received a proposal recently – the first ever from a non-office staff member. It was from the mamas, the name for full time caretakers, at our children’s village, a cluster of family-style homes designed for orphaned and vulnerable kids who had aged out of our partner orphanage but couldn’t be immediately reunified with family, or who lost parents at older ages. These women provide round-the-clock care for 26 boisterous, helpful, passionate, shy, devilish, traumatized, resilient, wonderful children from four to thirteen years old, READ MORE…

Orphanages that hate orphanages

I founded and run an organization that includes an orphanage, and I hate orphanages. Just one of the many mind-bending situations you find yourself in when working in community development, halfway around the world.

A good friend and mentor (who was recently profiled on 60 Minutes) once told me that there are two types of organizations that try to aid people in Tanzania, where we both live and work. There are NGOs (non-governmental organizations, including nonprofits and charities) , and NG-EGOs. A good NGO finds a need in a community that they can help to fill, and do their best to connect the resources out there with the communities and children that need them. NG-EGOs, meanwhile, simply do the type of work that they find most satisfying. For example, an NG-EGO might be founded on the logic that the founder personally loves babies, and there are babies in need in Tanzania, therefore they are going to open a baby home. I hear you asking, so what? What could be wrong with that? READ MORE…

The Small Things Announces First Round of Funding from Happy Family Brands to Start Construction on Children’s Village

Village to Provide Family-Style Support and Housing for Orphaned Children in Nkoaranga, Tanzania and Surrounding Areas

East Haven, CT and Nkoaranga, TZ March 20th, 2014 – The Small Things (TST), a non-profit organization to support children and families in Nkoaranga, Tanzania is moving forward with an ambitious plan to build a children’s village for orphaned and abandoned children, between the ages of 5-18 in the Nkoaranga area. The first phase of construction will be underwritten by a major grant from Shazi Visram and her family, as well as from her New York City based company, Happy Family Brands. The village will be named in honor of Shazi’s father, Amir Visram, in memory of his dedication to the orphaned and vulnerable children of Tanzania. READ MORE…

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