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A bridge to prosperity

Marylhurst-based Africa Bridge program receives federal grant to continue work in Tanzania


by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - West Linn resident Barry Childs grew up in Tanzania, and when he saw suffering during a return visit in 1998 he decided to start Africa Bridge.Growing up in Tanzania, Barry Childs always felt special.

He was white and privileged, his mother from South Africa and his father a British agricultural officer. In Tanzania, those qualities made him stand out, and from infancy to the age of 16, Childs coasted on his notoriety.

“I remember a tremendous sense of freedom,” said Childs, who now lives in West Linn. “Everyone knew who I was. If I was lost, they knew where to take me. ... People just were fascinated with a white child, and for a young boy that’s pretty awesome.”

He couldn’t have known it then, but it was also during those formative years that Childs first learned about a cause that he now dedicates his life to. In 2000, Childs retired from his position at the Abbot Laboratories health care organization and founded Africa Bridge, a nonprofit that works to assist Tanzanian children and families by teaching and promoting self-sufficient agriculture.

The Marylhurst-based organization has grown significantly over its 13 years, to the point that in July it received its first federal grant as part of the IMARISHA program, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The grant amounts to about $69,000 which, according to Childs, will help fund a $95,000 project to establish agricultural co-op groups in five different Tanzanian villages.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - As part of the program, each participating family receives a hybrid cow that produces three times as much as indigenous cattle.

Sixty families with vulnerable children will be included in the co-ops, and each family will receive its own hybrid cow — which produces three times more milk than its indigenous counterpart — along with extensive training in animal husbandry and business tactics. In turn, the families are directed to donate one newborn calf to the co-op in order to spur growth.It’s a formula that Childs and his Africa Bridge co-workers have strived to perfect for more than a decade.

“The purpose is to demonstrate to other organizations the power of agriculture to vulnerable children,” Childs said. “It’s a fabulous project for us because there’s a lot of research and documentation. It will give us a lot of credibility in terms of how we go about our program.”

The grant will help fund a team of staffers who are already on the ground in the five targeted villages. Though the heavy lifting for this particular project will be done within a year, Africa Bridge stays in each village for up to five years to monitor progress and provide extra training when necessary.

The process has worked wonders in the past. In a 2012 survey of 158 households in Tanzania’s Masoko ward, 96 percent of families who had been in co-ops for at least four years were eating three meals per day during the dry season, compared to 11 percent of families not in a co-op.

“What we provide is extensive training on how to run a co-op, how to run a business and how to care for a cow so it will be a high producer,” Childs said. “The sort of things we do there give them the capacity to use their land and give them knowledge — knowledge and capital.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The ultimate goal of the program is to help villages create a more sustainable food supply and economy. Africa Bridge coordinators also work to connect villages with the national and international economy, which can enhance profits and sustainability even further.

One thing the program does not do, Childs said, is attempt to impose a Western ideology on these rural villages. Growing up in Tanzania, Childs grew to love the “warm, friendly, fabulous” people there, and spent much of his time playing with other children while his father held meetings with local leaders.

It was, as Childs puts it, “where my ideas were formed and grounded from.” When he revisited the country in 1998, 35 years after he moved away as a teenager, Childs saw that many of the wonderful qualities he remembered were in danger of being swallowed by disease and poverty.

“What had changed was HIV-AIDs was impacting people, and what I saw in particular was the impact on children,” Childs said. “I’d been a child there and had a wonderful childhood, and I owed it to them.”

Africa Bridge applied for the IMARISHA grant back in February of 2012, though it wasn’t approved until this July. IMARISHA, which means “strengthening” in Swahili, is a five-year federal program that “strives to mitigate the huge economic costs faced by individuals and families coping with HIV-AIDS and helps them to build better household safety nets.”

IMARISHA and Africa Bridge seemed to go hand-in-hand, and when the grant was finally approved, program officials wasted little time getting started. Within just a few days after the grant was signed, the project was underway on July 15.

“We were really anxious to get the cows to these people,” local full-time volunteer Ellen Worcester said.

To learn more about Africa Bridge, visit africabridge.org.




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