When The Nyanya Project decided to build a new house for three elderly grandmothers of AIDS orphans in Tanzania in the summer of 2008, the Blessings Project Foundation of Winston-Salem, N.C. made this new home and much of the trip possible.

Beverly Johnston, Blessing Project’s founder and member of TNP’s Board of Directors, heard about our plans and provided the funds through the Foundation that brought shelter to grandmothers in Tanzania and helped with travel expenses of several Wake Forest University students, including three football players and a female student.

Johnston’s Foundation is a remarkable entity that fulfills the extraordinary vision of its founder. Johnston decided that what she would like to do is assist non-profit groups “in their efforts to make our local community, our country and the world more equitable, healthy and humane.” In our case, the Foundation directly changed the lives of grandmothers of AIDS orphans in Africa, their grandchildren and the American volunteers who journeyed to help them.

Much of our time in Tanzania was spent tearing down a one-room structure whose roof and walls had already fallen to the ground around these elderly women. We then rebuilt from that foundation to create a home that, today, has three bedrooms, windows, doors and an extra room in the back.

For the first time in their lives, these grandmothers are living in a home that has finished floors and adequate space for their grown grandchildren. No longer do these women have to be afraid or crouched against a wall during the rainy season.  When we visited them six months after the house was completed, new grandchildren were living with them – and the women were safe and sheltered.

The care of the Blessings Project Foundation has reached across the world.

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Within one year of establishing our first programs in East Africa, students, administrators and faculty at Wake Forest University have rallied to lend support. The philosophy of the university, founded in 1834, is “Pro Humanitate”- a humanitarian philosophy that has continually supported our work. A dozen students have traveled to Africa to participate in our programs.  Others have volunteered as research and administrative assistants, and the founder has been invited to participate in several Wake sponsored venues.  She wrote an original dramatic presentation, “Fish for Sex,” for the annual Vagina Monlogue evening on campus; she has spoken about TNP to classes in various departments at the university; in 2012 she was asked to be a presenter at the first TED-X Conference in the area;  organized guest lectures by leaders from Rwanda and wrote a piece about Wake’s contributions to TNP in the alumni magazine.  In addition, TNP has a Student Advisory Board; a student-led volunteer group has been active in assisting in fundraisers; sororities and fraternities have supported our work; students have written the proposal for TNP to be a chartered organization on campus. Faculty members serve on our Board, and TNP’s founder is an original member of a new center at the University, CERE (Center for Enterprise Research and Development). She spearheaded visits to Kenya and Rwanda for CERE and University officials to visit our programs, meet our partners and begin plans to extend its research to East Africa.


Meaning “Peace from above,” Amani was TNP’s first partner in Africa.  Without their experience and support, TNP would not have been able to launch our idea that African grandmothers could become self-sufficient and bring more support to their families.  Becky Chinchin, Amani’s inspirational founder, believed in our vision and helped us launch our dream.  Amani is a major crafts center in Nairobi that has trained hundreds of at-risk women for more than a decade.  Their fabric crafts are sold throughout Africa and the U.S. For TNP, they have trained eight grandmothers in the Kibera slums in basic business skills, a year-long training that has quadrupled the grandmothers’ income from their vegetable stands.  The guiding philosophy from Amani is for their participants to be peace makers in their communities.


Located in a remote area of Central Kenya near Mt. Kenya, the Samaria Maternity Center was started by Susan Kaburu, a Kenyan midwife and RN.  We were introduced to Susan by the Burning Bush Foundation in Tennessee. Susan found our first group of grandmothers caring for AIDS orphans in 2007 and checks on their welfare on a regular basis.  The grandmothers immediately formed themselves into a cooperative which has continued to meet every two weeks since its inception, and the grandmothers share profits among themselves using a bank account that they created for their group.  TNP provides sheep and cows to the women and some supplies to make traditional straw bags called kiondos that they sell in local markets.


Just outside of Dar Es Salaam is GOIG, an acronym for “Growing Old is to Grow.” An impressive crafts center, GOIG trains women in crafts such as sisal rugs, tie-dye fabrics and cloth crafts, candles and leather accessories.  Managed by the late Mary Mzeru, GOIG partnered with TNP our first summer and trained more than 120 grandmothers of AIDS orphans and oversaw TNP’s building of a new house for elderly grandmothers in the village of Kawe.  Mary Mezeru was a pioneer in her country for training of women and was particularly supportive of our efforts to bring skills to grandmothers.


Headed by Asia Kapende, the Tanzania Home Economics Association is a national NGO  that works to improve quality of life for women and their families.  The regional director of CARE International in Rwanda introduced TNP to THEA in 2008. THEA is a national non-government membership organization that works to improve quality of life for women and their families.  Founded in 1980 by 17 home economists, its membership currently exceeds 1,000 individuals and institutions across the country. Their outreach to rural populations informed their expertise in conducting the first Business Skills training of four grandmothers for TNP in Mwanza, northern Tanzania.


Joy and Janet Ndungutse witnessed the incredible artistry of their mother who was a master of traditional Rwandan basketmaking. After the Genocide, they wanted to empower women throughout the country. They began training at-risk women in the skills they had learned from their mother. Today, several thousand women are earning livings thanks to the training at Gahaya. Products have grown to include stunning jewelry, home decor and fabric accessories, and their traditional baskets have been featured at Macy’s and sold in specialty shops throughout the world.  TNP’s founder met with Joy in 2009 and asked if Gahaya would train our Rwandan grandmothers raising grandchildren orphaned by AIDS. Joy beamed and answered, “Yes!”  Our first grandmothers were trained in making paper beads which Gahaya bought and fashioned into jewelry.  Joy has been a wise and enthusiastic supporter of our first programs in Rwanda.


To launch our first program with grandmothers in Rwanda, Board member, Gretchen Effgen talked to friends and found an organization called Orphans of Rwanda.  Founded in 2004 to provide scholarships to Genocide orphans, the organization recently changed its name to Generation Rwanda in order to reach even more at-risk young people in that country.  Hundreds and hundreds of students have been educated by GR, and TNP’s program managers are graduates of their brilliant education services.  Graduates are professional, well educated and want to make a difference to others in their country.  Simon Mvunabandi, our first Project Manager, is a GR graduate and helped find our first grandmothers.  Kassim Mbarushimana, another GR graduate, currently guides our efforts in Rwanda.  Other graduates will likely partner with programs initiated by Wake Forest University where the founder is a Senior Lecturer of Journalism.


Our newest Board member is Rwanda’s most successful entrepreneur, Eugene Nyagahene  Returning to his home in Rwanda shortly after the Genocide ended, Eugene wanted to help rebuild his country. He is founder and owner of Tele 10 Group, a multi-nation consortium of  companies in Rwanda, Burundi, Congo and Ivory Coast. He has also developed other communication, transportation and TV companies. In his family’s home village of Cyingwa near the Congolese border, he launched a coffee plantation with the provision that Hutus and Tutsis must work side by side.  His philosophy of capitalism for social good extends to his guidance to TNP and assistance in marketing agricultural products grown by TNP grandmothers.

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