IRINGA, TANZANIA (VINnews) — Letty McMaster was just 18 years old when she set out to spend a month of her gap year volunteering in a Tanzanian orphanage. However the experience was to change her life immeasurably. After seeing the difficult conditions suffered by the orphans, who suffered physical and mental abuse in the orphanage, she decided to stay and devote her time to easing their plight.
Three years later the orphanage was shut down, meaning that the children would be sent back to the streets. McMaster adopted nine of the children, picked up five more off the streets and established a remarkable home for all of them- Street Children Iringa- where she serves as a kind of mother-sister figure to the children and provides for all of their needs.
Letty, who pays for their upkeep and education through a UK charity she set up, told the Daily Mirror that “These children are my whole life. They keep me going through the long hours of juggling everything.
“I’m the parental figure in the house. Some of the little boys who never had a parent view me as their mum – but most see me more as a big sister as I’m not that much older than some of them.”
Needless to say the children have flourished with all the care they are receiving.
One of her boys, Eliah, was found on the streets in winter wearing just a T-shirt after his mum died. Now he’s in the top 20 pupils in his year at his school.
Fred, 11, had not eaten for days when he was spotted cowering in a dump in 2019. Now he has been accepted into a prestigious football academy.
After his parents died when he was just two-years-old, Iddy had spent most of his life between the streets, gangs and the orphanage where Letty first met him.
He moved into the family home in 2016 and is now a talented boxer and musician with his music being played on local radio stations.
Lettie adds that “Gosberth is one of the boys that I’ve looked after for the past seven years and is now studying at one of the top private schools in the country and is the number one pupil in his year.
“Eva is 19 and is chairperson of her year at university – she’s doing so well and has got a volunteer internship with an international NGO.
“Obviously it takes time to settle into the house from street life and traumatic experiences and it can take a while to get them into family life, routine and leaving street behaviour behind but seeing their drive, determination and success is what makes all the balancing that I have to do worth it.”
She added that “I decided I wanted to create a place for these children to call home where they would be safe, stable and loved and no longer treated as if they were in a zoo.
“I wanted them to have a normal family life and the charity has helped to pay for running the home and food costs as well as medical and educational needs.”
Along the way McMaster, who spends nine months a year in the house and three months in Britain raising funds to run it, somehow succeeded in completing a degree in Developmental Studies with the SOAS university in London which specializes in African studies. She has also learned Swahili and spends many hours with her “children” every day.
“When everyone comes home from school, they’ve all got their own stories to share and homework, football training and music commitments,” McMaster says.
“It’s a family home all the way.
“They see me as a big sister. I’ve raised them so they feel I’m the parent and then the two workers I have are like their aunties.”