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In Tanzania, Carpenter's Kids transforms AIDS orphans' lives

By Matthew Davies
[Episcopal News Service]  In support of the more than 2.5 million AIDS orphans in Tanzania, the dioceses of New York and Central Tanganyika partner through Carpenter's Kids, a program which links parishes in a mutual relationship of prayer, communication and exchange that transforms children's lives in one of the world's poorest countries.

"Most of the children are looked after by neighbors or relatives, but because of the pressures on the extended family, the guardians are not able to afford to send them to school," said Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo of Central Tanganyika. "That is the first stage of giving them hope; of building their future lives."

The program was initiated when Mhogolo met with Suffragan Bishop Catherine Roskam of New York in 2005. In addition to the diocesan links, they agreed that the program needed to work as a parish-to-parish exchange where they would be "praying for one another, supporting one another, visiting one another, and knowing one another as brothers and sisters, and growing together," Mhogolo said.

Roskam visited Tanzania in the summer of 2005 with Bishop Neil Alexander of Atlanta, whose diocese also shares a companion relationship with Central Tanganyika. Roskam is scheduled to visit Tanzania with members of the link parishes in July and Assisting Bishop Don Taylor of New York will lead a separate delegation in August.

"Bishop Mdimi and I do not a need a Covenant to know we are in communion," said Roskam, noting the New York diocese's gratitude for his compassionate leadership. "We are joined by mutual respect and affection and the ministry we share to a suffering world. I believe God has called us together to this work of caring for the poorest of this world's children. We are answering that call to the best of our ability in a spirit of obedience and joy."

Roskam said that the ministry is "transformative" for parishes in New York. "It casts a clear light on the sinfulness of our culture's consumerism in the face of the world's extreme poverty, and at the same time it gives us a concrete way to do something life-changing in partnership with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Tanzania," she said. "We set out to change the lives of children living in extreme poverty but have found our own lives transformed as well."

Other companion diocese relationships include Arizona with Dar es Salaam and Montana with the entire province.

"Sometimes our vision of the world is so narrow," said Alexander, who has two trips to the African diocese planned in coming months. "It always helps us to have a larger vision beyond ourselves."

Although attending public school in Central Tanganyika is free, the students require breakfast, uniforms, shoes and books. Through Carpenter's Kids, the two dioceses identify parishes -- of which there are currently 25 -- on both sides that are willing to enter into a multi-year engagement. New York congregations agree to provide $50 per child, per year.

Mhogolo, who is bishop of 200 parishes, acknowledged that there is still a long way to go, but is greatly encouraged by the interest so far.

"We have seen the transformation taking place in those children who have come into the program," he said. "They are now going to school; they are confident; they are part of the society now where they feel loved and cared for. We are giving them hope, because it is only through education that they will be able to build up their lives."

For Mhogolo, who attended the New York diocesan convention in 2006, Carpenter's Kids is an answer to prayer and a real mission to the needs of the children in his diocese, who are building new lives, echoing the "carpenter" theme of Jesus' own upbringing.

In Tanzania, "poverty is neutral," Mhogolo says, "and it is only through our mutual respect and love that we come together and work together for the benefit of the society we serve under the overarching mission of God."