A young British woman is the mother of 14 Tanzanian children whom she met after volunteering at an orphanage during her year abroad.
She ended up staying for three years to support the children she met and when the orphanage closed, Letty took in nine teenagers who would have become homeless.
Seven years later, she lives with the children after becoming all of them legal guardians – as well as five other children she met on the street or in a safe house that she runs.
“These children are my whole life. I raise them all alone and they keep me going through the long hours of juggling, ”she said.
“I had always thought of helping street children so my family and friends wouldn’t be surprised, but I never expected that I would do all of that.
“I’m the parenting figure in the house – some of the little boys who never had a parent see me as their mother, but most of them see me as a big sister, as I’m not much older than some of them.
“I’m like any mother raising teenagers – I have made a commitment to them and I just feel so blessed to have two families.”
Letty had just graduated from high school in 2013 when she flew to Tanzania with a plan to volunteer at an orphanage for a month before returning home to university.
But she said she soon realized the children were being physically and mentally abused, claiming the staff only fed them once a day and instead put the money donated by tourists for the school in their pockets.
“I made the decision to fly to Tanzania after seeing numbers that showed hundreds of thousands of children living on the streets,” Letty said.
“Voluntourism and white saviourism in this orphanage is why I did all of this.
“I saw how terribly harmful it was to the children and how it started an ongoing cycle of abuse.
“A lot of orphanages are like that – it’s all just making money and exploiting children.
“The kids still don’t get it, and I’m sure the westerners had no idea – they thought they were helping, but they actually do so much harm.
“The abuse the children went through at the orphanage was horrific and I saw the effects on the children and knew immediately that something had to change.
“I couldn’t leave them in this situation, so my new goal was to get them a family home.”
When the orphanage was closed by the local council in 2016, Letty fought for the right to open their own house in Iringa for the nine homeless children.
She founded Street Children Iringa as a UK registered charity and has taken another five children into her home after meeting them on the street and through the safe house she runs.
Neither child was in school or living between the streets and the orphanage when she met them, but their lives have changed immensely since moving into Letty’s house.
One of their boys, Eliah, was found on the street in the middle of winter wearing only a t-shirt after his mother died.
He is now in the top 20 students for his school year.
Fred, 11, hadn’t eaten in days crouching on a dump.
Since moving to the family home in 2019, he has been accepted into a prestigious football academy.
After his parents died when he was only two years old, Iddy had spent most of his life among the streets, gangs, and the orphanage where Letty first met him.
He moved to the family home in 2016 and is now a talented boxer and musician whose music is played on local radio stations.
“Since having a place to call home, they have all excelled at education and in every aspect of their lives,” Letty said.
“Gosberth is one of the boys I have looked after for the past seven years. He is now studying at one of the best private schools in the country and is the number one student in his year.
“Eva is 19 and the chairwoman of her academic year. She does it very well and does a voluntary internship with an international NGO.
“Obviously it takes time to settle down from street life and traumatic experiences around the house, and it can take a while for them to get into family life, routine and street behavior.
“Razarlo is studying to be a tour guide in the national park, while Plshon and Iddy have recorded music that is played on local radios.
“Seeing your drive, determination, and success makes all the balancing I have to do worthwhile.”
She added, “I made a decision to create a place for these children to call home, where they are safe, stable, and loved and no longer treated like a zoo.
“I wanted them to have a normal family life, and the charity helped cover the household, food, medical and educational needs.”
She lives in Iringa with the children nine months a year and comes to the UK for the remainder of the year to raise funds through sponsored events and an annual charity ball.
She often works long days but still has a degree in Development Studies from the University of SOAS in London.
Letty, who speaks Swahili fluently, said, “I can’t even give you a normal day – it changes every day.
“It’s basically a 12-hour day, if not longer, that wakes up early but doesn’t go to sleep until very late.
“When everyone comes home from school, they all have their own stories to share, including homework, soccer practice, and musical commitments.
“It’s a family home.
“You see me as a big sister. I raised them to make them feel like parents and then the two workers I have are like their aunts.
“I would love to have my own children in the future, but obviously my life is so hectic that I don’t have time to think about dating right now!”
Letty also runs a safe house, which she opens three days a week, to provide street children with a safe place with access to shelter, food and resources.
Accompanied by the oldest boys in her house, she goes out into the streets at night to find homeless children in need.
Letty said: “There are more and more children who need help here in Tanzania.
“The biggest challenge in my job is securing funding to support all of this.
“In the next five years I would like to help as many street children as possible.
“If these children are not led on a path, very often they become involved in gangs, drug violence and criminal activities, with the risk of jail or even death.
“The more donations the charity can receive, the more children and young adults will be supported in a life away from the streets.”
This article originally appeared on The Sun and was republished with permission
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