For Silverton resident Holly Mulford, helping the orphans of the Democratic Republic of Congo was never much of a choice.
“When you hold them in your hands, they’re not just pictures on TV anymore,” she said. “I know their names.”
In March, Mulford, 36, launched the nonprofit organization Tumaini.
Meaning “hope” in Swahili, Tumaini partners with Congolese agencies to provide resources for the area’s orphaned and underprivileged children.
Currently, the organization is partnering with the Save the Children orphanage to recruit sponsors for 32 infants and children living in the orphanage, providing them with formula and care workers.
Tumaini is also soliciting sponsors to help provide textbooks, school fees and uniforms for the 82 children who have grown older and left the orphanage to live with extended family or in foster homes, as well as donations to help improve the orphanage’s facilities and train additional personnel.
A nonprofit organization, Tumaini’s mission
is to provide hope to the children of the
Democratic Republic of Congo by meeting
their physical, spiritual and educational needs.
For information or to donate, visit
www.tumainidrc.org. Follow Holly Mulford’s
work with Tumaini and Save the Children
through her blog, on kitumaini.blogspot.com
For Mulford, Tumaini is just part of a passion she has always had for helping people. It’s what drove the Class of 1992 Silverton High graduate to become a pediatric nurse practitioner.
In 2007, she followed her husband, Michael, a humanitarian aid worker with the religious relief organization Food for the Hungry, to the war-torn region of Congo where they lived and raised their two children, Natalie, 4, and Isla, 2.
There, she said, she developed a profound connection to the country and its troubles: a refugee crisis brought on by years of intermittent fighting among rebel groups, struggles over natural resources and campaigns of rape against women.
“It’s a beautiful country with a very strong and courageous people who suffer greatly,” she said. “You cannot [help but] be moved by living there and knowing the people.”
In February of 2010, the couple decided to adopt a child. It was during a visit to Save the Children, a remote orphanage in rural Congo, that she became moved to action by the conditions the children were living in, she said.
In dozens of cribs were neglected babies, sometimes sitting in their own urine, unable to lift their heads, roll or walk, she said.
Underweight and underdeveloped babies and children were being fed watered down formula and porridge, she said, by overwhelmed orphanage staff.
It was that same night, Mulford said, a restless, sleepless night, that she felt a calling to get involved.
“I felt like God was telling me, ‘This is why you’re here,’” she said. “I believe that God opened the door and said, ‘Go through it, and I’ll provide the resources.’”
The Mulfords eventually adopted 21-month-old twins Ellen Zawadi and Miriam Angeline; and Mulford has been involved with the orphanage ever since.
Since launching in March, Tumaini has already achieved 75 percent of its sponsorship needs, Mulford said. The organization is currently accepting donations through the church sponsorship organization Children’s HopeChest, while awaiting 501(c)(3) non-profit status through the Internal Revenue Service.
And Mulford can point to individual breakthroughs, such as Chito Wambili, a formerly neglected, malnourished 14-month-old girl who quickly improved with better care and nourishment.
In her blog, Mulford rejoices at the sight of the formerly bedridden child toddling up to her during an early July visit.
“What a gift to be given on my last day visiting the orphanage,” she wrote in her blog, “the best gift ever!”
Through Tumaini, Mulford hopes to create a model organization for what she refers to as “good aid,” or specifically targeted funds and supplies that help build communities.
For one, Tumaini does not facilitate international adoptions. According to the Tumaini Web site, that would consume an incredible amount of time and resources that could be better served helping orphans.
Also, most of the orphans at Save the Children have families; the organization is focused on ultimately reuniting the children with their families and making all lives better in Congo, as opposed to pulling individual orphans away to grow up in America or elsewhere.
“I think that hope relates to having a sense of belonging in the country that you’re from,” she said.
Also, the Web site discourages what Mulford calls “blind donations.” Mulford said dumping money and goods can lead to misuse of resources and lower the value of goods already in country. It can also lead to more problems than it solves, she said.
“I see what bad aid can do,” she said. “It creates dependency and it cripples and it takes away dignity from people.”
Tumaini faces serious challenges. For one, there is very little infrastructure in Congo; roads are in disrepair and medical facilities are atrocious, she said. Another issue is the ingrained corruption in government bureaucracy, which leads to bribery as a way of life, she said.
“Thankfully the manager we have on the ground is someone I’ve known for four years, someone I trust completely,” she said.
A more pressing concern is the challenge that running Tumaini presents Mulford. As she follows her husband east to Ithaca, NY, where he will pursue a Ph.D., she will have to juggle the responsibilities and demands of a mother of four and a job seeker with those of a director of a non-profit.
And as conditions in the orphanage improve, more orphaned newborns are already being brought in.
“I was a little bit overwhelmed, because I realized I’ve committed to feeding those newborns,” she said.
But she’s ready to take it, one child at a time.
“When you go there, and you meet the people one-on-one,” she said, “it doesn’t feel so overwhelming anymore.”
“You’re just one small person but you can make a difference in one kid’s life.”