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Meet The Adoptive Mum Helping Tanzanian Women To Keep Their Children

How Anna Dombkins is empowering struggling mothers to provide a brighter future for their families

Felcity Robinson

When Shakuru came to the Forever Projects’ Tanzanian partners for help in March 2015, the young mother felt desperate. Despite persevering for several weeks, she was unable to adequately breastfeed her newborn baby and, like most Tanzanian women, couldn’t afford to buy formula milk. Every day, she watched helplessly as Joseph became increasingly malnourished and listless.

“As a mum, I couldn’t even comprehend what it would be like to be unable to feed your child, and yet so many women like Shakuru are in that situation,” says Anna Dombkins, a softly spoken mother of six. “If I were walking in their shoes, I’d hope someone would step in to help.”

That’s exactly what Anna and her husband Mark have done with Forever Projects, a unique not-for-profit that supports mothers all over Tanzania to provide food and shelter for their babies, and – crucially – create a self-sustaining future for their families.


Anna with her husband Mark and their six children

Forever Projects works with local charity partners to deliver a year-long program of care and support to mothers like Shakuru. First, they address the immediate need – reducing the threat of newborn malnourishment by providing formula milk to mums who can’t lactate, and inviting each mum to weekly clinics to check on their baby’s progress. Other basic needs, such as the payment of rent arrears, clothing, and food are also met.

Then, once mum and baby are thriving (and in some cases breastmilk returns), Forever Projectslocal partners work with every mother or carer to help establish a small business that will enable her to create a reliable income.

Forever Projects works with local charity partners to deliver a year-long program of care

In the eight years since its launch, Forever Projects has helped hundreds of women to create businesses ranging from fruit stalls to tailors (one particularly strong mum has a business hewing rocks for road aggregate).

“Seeing the relief and then transformation in women who are able to keep and care for their babies is so powerful,” says Anna. “All we want as mothers is to be able to love and raise our kids, so being able to help in that way is pretty incredible.”

Mothers and carers at a program run by one of Forever Partners' in-country partners

After reaching out to Forever Projects’ local partners for help, Shakuru returned with Joseph to the centre every week to receive support and training in small-business economics.

“We discovered she was a seamstress by trade, but didn’t have the money to buy the machine she needed,” adds Mark. “So we gave her the capital and some training, and within 12 months she was financially independent. She set up a business outside her house and Joseph was running around, chubby and healthy – it was incredible to see.”

Esther feeds her baby formula milk, which is prohibitively expensive in Tanzania

Anna and Mark’s journey to Forever Projects began almost 10 years ago, when they watched a documentary about the plight of abandoned and malnourished children around the world. They were moved to act – at the time, they had a one-year-old baby, but that didn’t deter them from travelling to Africa. They stayed in Tanzania for three years, eventually adopting twins – Shay and Charlie – and a little boy called Jabari, all of whom had no relatives able to care for them.

“So we were leaving the baby home with three one-year-olds, our arms literally full with these beautiful babies, and leaving more than 50 behind,” says Anna. “I remember feeling that there must be a way to intervene earlier so that mothers could keep their children, or their families could look after them, rather than having no option other than placing them in an orphanage. That day, the seed of Forever Projects was planted, and it grew from there.”

It was important for both Anna and Mark that Forever Projects involved local leaders, and that 100 per cent of every donation went directly to the local programs in Tanzania. All administrative and compliance costs are covered by  a core group of monthly donors.

“We believe that at the heart of any change is empathy and local teams understand women’s situation, the forces and pressures upon them, far better than anyone else,” says Mark. “They need our trust and they need funds, so Forever Projects is a conduit connecting Australian donors with the people best placed to help vulnerable mothers and carers.”

Regular donors receive updates on the programs, as well as the chance to attend an online AGM (Annual Giving Meeting) with local partners in Tanzania. In the future, adds Anna, Forever Projects plans to fund similar local organisations in other East African countries.

“The last time we returned to the orphanage there were empty rooms, as mothers had been able to keep their children with them, thanks to Forever Projects donors,” says Anna. “In fact, Shakuru will be using one of the rooms to teach sewing to other mothers. It’s one of those beautiful outcomes that shows what women can achieve when you support and believe in them.”

This is a sponsored post for Forever Projects.

A donation of just $15 a month is enough to meet a Tanzanian mother’s basic needs for her family. Visit Forever Projects here to find out more.


BY Felcity Robinson

Felicity is PRIMER's co-founder

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