Thursday, 14 December 2017

C Columns

TOUCO Idaho Non-profit Helps Tanzanian Orphans

Jul/ Aug 2017




Fr. Bruno, Ronald & Kids: Ronald Rugimbana, far right, is a native Tanzanian whonow lives in Boise and works at Hewlett-Packard. Next to him is Father Bruno Mgaya, who started homes for orphans in Tanzania. The woman on the far left in the red headscarf is one ofthe matrons that Fr. Bruno selects to help care for the children. (Courtesy photo)

By Gaye Bunderson

Ronald Rugimbana learned the truth behind the saying “it's a small world” when his mother came to Boise from Tanzania to visit him one year. He had come to the U.S. from Africa in 1998 on academic and tennis scholarships to Boise State. Following graduation and a career in professional tennis, he set up home in Boise and got a job at Hewlett-Packard.

While here, his mother decided to go for a walk one day. Along the way, she came to St. Mark's Church and went inside. There, she met Father Bruno Mgaya, who was a priest at the church at the time. She discovered that Fr. Bruno, as he is frequently known, was also from Tanzania. When she got home, she asked Ronald if he was aware a fellow Tanzanian lived so close by. He admitted he was unaware of Fr. Bruno.

That was eight years ago, and Ronald is now very familiar with the beloved priest. Fr. Bruno started Tanzania Orphan's Upendo Community to help children in his native land. After Ronald got to know Fr. Bruno in Boise and became aware of his work, he traveled home to Tanzania for his annual visit. He and his mother drove to see one of Fr. Bruno's four orphanages, the one in Mafinga. “We wanted to cross-check and make sure of what Fr. Bruno had told us,” Ronald said.

Indeed, there stood the orphanage, just as Fr. Bruno had said. Ronald decided he wanted to dedicate his time to Fr. Bruno's work, helping raise funds back in the U.S. and visiting the children and assisting where he could when in Tanzania. He joined with other people at St. Mark's to form a TOUCO board of directors and became close friends with the current board president, Kevin O'Sullivan. Both men are immigrants to the U.S.; Kevin has lived here 32 years and worked as a civil engineer at Trus Joist in Boise prior to his retirement. The former New Zealander designed the roof structure for the Kibbie Dome at the University of Idaho.

Ronald was 'all in' when it came to TOUCO before Kevin signed on, and said, “I am so grateful Kevin showed up for duty.”

“My life has been blessed and wonderful and successful,” said Kevin. “I give myself freely to the undertaking.”

Both men share a high regard for Fr. Bruno. Central to the priest's motivation for starting the orphanages is the fact he, too, grew up as an orphan in Tanzania. As a frightened child, he slept under trees and scrounged for food. Despite being on his own, however, he stayed in school — a Herculean task for a small, lonely boy. He now has a Ph.D. in sociology, among other degrees. (For the full story, go to

Fr. Bruno envisioned the orphanages as a small family unit — they are in fact called “family centers.” He incorporated a matron program into each orphanage. Women ages 24 to 55 who are widows, single moms or never married live in the orphanages and take care of the children. It is often a bonus for the matrons, as they may otherwise be just as unfortunate as the children.

People in Tanzania are looking for opportunities, Ronald said, and may want to work at the orphanages just for that reason; but Fr. Bruno has a filter for getting just the right people with the right motivation, which is to love the children.

“The matrons are ladies who want to give back, and they devote themselves to taking care of the kids. They come from not-so-good areas, so it's a win-win for the women,” he said.

Both Ronald and Kevin praise Fr. Bruno's ideas about self-sufficiency and what they call his “self-sustaining mindset.”

“He's got a good recipe,” Kevin said. “I was delighted with what I saw when I went there.”

“Fr. Bruno made it very clear he did not want an organization that just relies on donations. He wants sustainability,” Ronald said.

Local people in the communities of Mafinga, Ibumila, Madeke and Uwemba, where there areUpendo Family Centers (“upendo” is Kiswahili for “charity and love”) donate their knowledge.That may include instructions on growing a garden or milking cows. Each child must contribute to the well-being of the orphanage by working at various tasks.

“He builds independence in them,” Kevin said. “Fr. Bruno is a clever person, and he does hishomework. His doctoral thesis was on how to help orphans become better contributors to society.”

Each orphanage has one acre of land attached to it, with wells and a septic tank.

Land is surveyed and utilized.

“Fr. Bruno has pineapples and avocados growing — he's a horticulturist, too,” Kevin said.

“Fr. Bruno has intensity. His Ph.D. defined him even better,” Ronald said.

The former tennis player explained the reasons behind the number of orphans in Tanzania include migration, health issues and poverty. Fr. Bruno resists labeling the orphans — such as referring to them as “AIDS orphans” — and said they are all children of God, and that's the only label he wants for them.

TOUCO does need some initial funds to get the orphanages up and running and, at present, to keep them running at full steam. That's where the board of directors comes in. TOUCO is an Idaho 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

“We have very low-key fundraisers,” Kevin said. “People who know Fr. Bruno know he's a very loving personality. ... It's been exciting. The money just seems to come. Americans are very generous.”

“People on the board have faith and the spirit to give it back. We are driven by helping othersand sharing what we know,” Ronald said.

Kevin explained that by American standards, the orphanages are very modest in structure andhave limited operating budgets. But both men said there is a palpable sense of happiness amongthe children.

“They have nothing, but they are joyful,” Ronald said.

On one trip, Kevin wanted to teach the children baseball. There was no equipment, so the matrons fashioned a baseball out of whatever they could find. It was a day of fun for everyone — even with a makeshift ball.

For more information, go to Ronald Rugimbana may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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