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Community, Charity, Support, Hope, Rural

Sharing Opportunity

Curated by Barry Marshall, in conversation with Cherie Szucs

Cherie Szucs, "Mama Dee," of Simcoe, Ontario

August 2, 2023

The story of rural Ontario’s support of the Tumaini Children’s Foundation (TUCHIFO) is a story of two different rural cultures and the positive results of them coming together to enact global change. TUCHIFO is a non-profit organization that helps children in need in Tanzania, most of whom are from a rural background. Cherie Szucs, “Mama Dee,” of Simcoe, Ontario, was one of the founding executive directors; she split her time between rural Ontario and rural Tanzania. Cherie met the other director, Oddo Ndonde, through a person she met in Norfolk County, Ontario. TUCHIFO was established in September 2009. As of 2023, they have helped over 1,800 children. While much of the groundwork for Tumaini is conducted in Tanzania, people that Cherie met in rural Ontario are an essential part of the story as well, through funding, donations, and providing volunteer aid to Tumaini. Involvement in Tumaini has changed the lives of people in rural Ontario, and Tumaini has contributed to improving Tanzania.  

Cherie’s life in rural Ontario inspired her to start Tumaini. From Cherie’s perspective, the privilege and quality of life she gained from moving to rural Norfolk, after living in Toronto, enabled her to be proactive with her opportunities and form Tumaini to help children. “Living in a rural community afforded me the time to remember God and to remember the blessings that we have. That created a debt that I have that created the motivation for me to go to Tanzania in the first place. So, there's an enormous overlap between… I don't want to say the pace, the pace isn't slower… there are less choices in rural living, so there are less distractions.” The rural community also provided ample support for Tumaini. “I'llgive you an example of a fundraiser that's starting up. It's from a woman in our church and when she started talking about doing this fundraiser, she has run into so many people who are affiliated or connected with Tumaini. In our little community we have people who have come to Tumaini and volunteered, who have come back again and again, and it has become a focus in their life. Tumaini has affected so many people. It reminds us of just how much we really have here.” 

Cherie smiling and surrounded by Black children, with one on her knee.

The children that come to Tumaini are impoverished, malnourished, abused, and disadvantaged. Some of the children have been extraordinarily smart and would not have had a chance to get an education had Tumaini not supported them. A story that Cherie shared demonstrates the faith and commitment that she gave to the children. One day, a womanwas coming up the road to Tumaini with her niece, named Glory. Cherie could hear the baby coughing badly; they had just been to the doctor, who gave the little girl cough medicine. Cherie sent the aunt and child to her doctor, who said they would not take responsibility for a dying child. Cherie took the child to a hospital, where the child was put on oxygen and an IV drip, which are unheard-of amenities in Tanzania. Glory was diagnosed with pneumonia and cerebral palsy. Cherie learned that she was not a few months old as her appearance suggested, but rather three years old. Glory recovered and was taken in by Tumaini, where she received proper nutrition and a place to learn and grow. Three years later, Glory is now walking, learning, and smiling. 

Smiling children of various ages, holding saplings.
Children of Tumaini and a volunteer from rural Ontario planting saplings together. Photo courtesy of Cherie Szucs.

In rural Tanzania, just as anywhere else in the world, the context of a child's life predicts their ability to read and write. In rural Tanzania, some children can read and write well, while others may have never had a chance to read a book. The quality of education varies wildly, and farming directly affects learning, because children must eat before they can go to school. If a family’s crop fails, parents frequently pull their children out of school to get jobs, jeopardizing the child’s education. To improve the state of education, Tumaini has constructed a girls’ hostel to provide a safe and supportive space to help the girls study, which has helped to bring girls’ graduation rates up as high as 100% in someyears. Tumaini works with local schools to improve education. Many people from rural Ontario fly to Tumaini to volunteer to teach farming, academics, and building skills both at Tumaini and in private and community schools. Theyare sharing the privileges they have as rural Ontarians to create opportunities for children in Tanzania. 

Smiling child crouched down at a hole in the ground, planting a sapling.
A child of Tumaini planting a sapling. Photo courtesy of Cherie Szucs.

It is hard to go out and commit one’s life to something that improves the quality of life of others, with no expectation of financial compensation. Society conveniently lays out a path of least resistance and applies social pressure to follow the norms. Why take the hard road to help improve another’s life when your life could be so much easier just following the standard path? When people choose the path less travelled, it shows others that there are alternative ways to spend their energy. People cannot grow, and the world cannot improve without people standing up and challenging societal assumptions and working to the limit of their abilities. In Cherie’s words, “when you give up yourself for no reason except to give, it creates a feeling of peace inside you. It feeds you in a way that nothing else can. And I have a peacefulness inside of me now.” 

Smiling young man holding a sapling.
A child from Tumaini holding up a sapling. Photo courtesy of Cherie Szucs.

Through Tumaini, Cherie and everybody she worked with have changed lives. They have “given opportunities to bright human beings to gain an education, and those children are going to change Tanzania.” But Tumaini also changed the people that volunteer their time. Tumaini and Cherie have connected people from Tanzania and Norfolk County and made a positive impact on both sides of the Atlantic. Both places are proving in their ways that they are not the sum of stereotypes and are capable of much more than their respective societies acknowledge. Tumaini reminds people in Cherie’s community in rural Ontario of their privileges and that giving just a portion of what they own can make a big difference in Tanzania. Anybody can contribute to making a difference, but the key is that people need to care. In Cherie’s words, “Tumaini has truly saved lives. We have given opportunities to incredibly bright human beings to gain an education that they never would have had a chance to otherwise, and those children are going to change Tanzania. Tumaini has and continues to make a dramatic difference for the lives in Tanzania, but we cannot do it alone.” 

Tumaini still operates today, giving children a home and helping them succeed. Mama Dee passed away on April 8, 2022, but her legacy will continue through the selfless work of Tumaini and its members. 

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