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James (in the back), with his brothers (from left) Nicholas, Joseph and Nickson holding their new school backpacks

Each new year at Uzima Centre brings the enrollment of new students, but it‘s also a reminder of just how many families are struggling to meet their most basic needs.

One of the requirements at Uzima Centre is that the children have a guardian. More times than not, the head of the family is a single mom, an aunt or a grandmother. Men are seldom in the picture. But life is unpredictable and these children live with a high degree of uncertainty.

Two years ago, I shared the story of James, and I’d like to update you on how things are going. In 2011 James’ mother, Martha, came to Uzima Centre. A widow, she was a struggling to support her four sons, James, Nickson, Joseph and Nicholas. In 2015 their world turned upside down. Martha had a new partner who was abusive. It finally became too much for her, and one day she left and never returned. Shortly after she took off, her abusive partner found another woman in town.

So from the time James was 14 years old, he has been the head of the family. During the past four years, James has tried to find his mother but has been unsuccessful. The last he heard she was at a fishing camp on an island somewhere in Lake Victoria (the second largest lake in the world with hundreds of islands!).

Initially, the boys didn’t tell us that they were alone. I think they were so certain that their mother would return that they couldn’t bring themselves to admit that she had left for good. Once we learned that James was trying to support himself and his brothers on the money he earned at Uzima Centre making paper beads, we began providing a stipend of $50 per month. This somehow has enabled James to feed and clothe the family. The house belongs to their mother, so they don’t have rent to pay, and since there is no running water or electricity, there are no utility bills. The boys have all the household chores between them. Nickson started eighth grade this year, Joseph sixth and Nicholas third. James shared that “Nicholas gets upset sometimes because he can’t remember what our mother looked like. He’s scared he will forget her.”

James has a lot on his shoulders. I continue to be impressed that he holds no bitterness against his mother. “Our mother was often beaten and beaten badly,” he said. “It was a terrible situation for all of us. I don’t blame her for leaving.” James finished his secondary school education last year and has been accepted into a one-year course in business administration, which starts this March.

His school fees for the year will be approximately $2,000. Once again we find ourselves counting on the prayers and donations of those who support Uzima Centre. The above photo of James and his brothers was taken when they brought in their new school backpacks. Once a year each child receives approximately $10 to purchase whatever they need under the condition that they show up the following month and show us what they bought. We see a lot of new backpacks, shoes, school uniforms and smiling faces.

The word uzima is a Swahili word that means “fullness of life,” which is our goal for each and every person who comes to us. For each person this can mean something different. Some require medical care, others education; but all need to know that someone cares.

Meanwhile, James, Nickson, Joseph and Nicholas become our teachers. From them we learn that forgiveness is possible, and that with sacrifice and determination, you can get through more than you ever thought possible. And so I thank God for the many teachers sent to help me on my journey. I thank God for each and every one of you, who enable the work at Uzima Centre and Maryknoll Lay Missioners to continue.

I’ll close with the following quote.

“Nothing we do changes the past, but everything we do changes the future.” —Ashleigh Brilliant

Thank you for making the future a little bit brighter for the children at Uzima Centre. May God bless you.


Watch a video featuring Joanne Miya and the Uzima Centre here. 

Joanne Miya Joanne Miya
Joanne Miya joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 1983. She is the director of the Uzima Centre in Mwanza, Tanzania, whose mission it is to provide hope, healthcare and education to adults and children living with HIV.