Poverty is never an acceptable reason for a child to be in an orphanage.
We make sure children grow up knowing
they are deeply valued and loved as individuals.
The Small Things strives to keep vulnerable and orphaned children in the Meru District of Tanzania in their families by creating sustainable, participatory and evolving care plans for their future. For those families most at-risk, we provide loving residential care in an effort to further strengthen the community’s long-term capacity.
We believe all children deserve homes and families – poverty is never an acceptable reason for a child to be in an orphanage. The Small Things (TST) aims to create alternatives to traditional residential care for vulnerable children by keeping families together, empowering caregivers and communities and serving as an advocate for transition to a family-first model with options for residential care when reunification is impossible. We provide holistic support and resources through our Family Preservation Program which allows families to keep or reclaim their children through microfinance, business training, adult education, school support and daycare. We work in partnership with Nkoaranga Orphanage and for children unable to return home, we provide family-style, community-based residential care at Happy Family Children’s Village. These attachment-focused homes offer stability and a happy environment for children, surrounded by love and given the opportunity for a brighter future. TST brings together many small actions from around the world to create big change for children in need – because no effort is too small to make a difference!
The Small Things (TST) was founded in 2011 by Executive Director Rebecca (Bekka) Ross Russell, whose passion for and vision of children growing up in a loving environment with a happy home was the inspiration for establishing the non-profit organization dedicated to family preservation through holistic support and residential care. Deeply influenced by the life and work of her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor who at great risk saved children from the Nazis during World War II, Bekka’s work is also a catalyst – and an homage.
In 2010, following undergraduate studies at Tufts University, Bekka began working as a volunteer at the Nkoaranga Orphanage in the Arusha region of Tanzania. But after falling hopelessly in love with the children, a year-long stay became the beginning of a lifelong commitment – and the impetus for finding a way to ensure saving the lives of countless young children who without help, would surely be deprived of loving homes and hope for the future.
Witnessing firsthand the challenges faced by so many kids living in local orphanages who eventually needed to transition to another home at age five, Bekka collaborated with local organizations to endeavor to find a better solution for these children in need: placement in secure, loving, caring families. With the extraordinary help and inspiration of Nkoaranga Orphanage’s integral leader since 1987, Mama Pendo, along with dedicated volunteers and supportive professionals, TST was created with an initial goal of providing supplemental support for the orphanage’s immediate operational needs such as installing a well and water filters, introducing solar lighting and adding much-needed staff.
Bekka felt compelled to return to Tanzania in 2013 to continue her quest to improve lives by empowering local communities and provide comprehensive outreach support – all with an emphasis on the importance of keeping children in families. (This also led to her own adoption of a boy and girl, Saimoni and Zawadi, from Nkoaranga Orphanage.) Deferring graduation, the following year she earned an MPA in International Development from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Over the past decade, TST’s partnership with Nkoaranga Orphanage has evolved to include providing additional residential care at Happy Family Children’s Village, built in honor of Amir Visram thanks to the generosity of Happy Family Organics, Shazi Visram and her family. Since 2014 the children’s village has offered loving homes with committed long-term caretakers for children not able to return to family members immediately while TST’s team implements a model for family stabilization and empowerment. This Family Preservation Program has resulted in a reunification rate of more than 50% – an increase of 1,000%+ since 2010. Additionally, mortality and morbidity rates have plummeted while developmental milestones have steadily increased. Direct support is currently provided for more than 130 children and 40 families, alleviating poverty and with great love, inspiring newfound happiness and optimism for a better future.
Based in East Haven, CT, TST has been funded by charitable donations since its inception, encouraging and promoting leadership from within the local Tanzanian community while also benefiting from volunteer-driven efforts. Its dedicated team of approximately 100 volunteers, partners, advisors and friends work as a global community to provide and enhance support for family preservation, ethical orphan care and investment in local infrastructure. Working in conjunction with Mama Pendo, and with an eye on anticipated expansion, TST continues to advocate for transition to a family-first model for residential care when reunification is not possible. Crucial for the health and happiness of the children and communities served, the impact of TST is proof positive that small things can indeed create big change.
TST is a US 501(c)3 organization under FEIN 45-2466306 working in partnership with The Small Things UK (UK charity number 1157470). In Tanzania TST is registered under TIN #125-148-831 and #NGO/00007641.