by Adam Bemma
ARUSHA, Tanzania – Welcome to Pippi House. Karibu sana. Please feel at home. This is Tanzania’s only safe house for abused and homeless girls, founded in 2011 by Aristides Nshange.
After spending five years establishing a place for street kids in Arusha, Watoto (kids) Foundation, Nshange felt it was an unjust policy to only allow boys into the program while leaving girls out in the cold.
“I decided to start another project in order to support girls because I found out there was a big need of supporting girls living on the streets,” he says.
During Nshange’s outreach in the community, the social worker came into contact with two homeless girls in Arusha. He consulted his wife and they agreed to house them temporarily until they could find them a safe place to live. When he couldn’t find anything, he realized his calling and decided to start Pippi House. A place for these, and other girls, to call home.
“I’m supporting them with mine and my wife’s salary,” he says. “We decided we’d try to support these girls as long as we can by ourselves.”
Pippi Foundation for Girls is now a certified non-governmental organization (NGO) in Tanzania. Pippi House has 18 girls living together in Arusha. According to Nshange, the girls come from all over the country and range in age from 13 to 24. The oldest at Pippi House has two children of her own, a four-year-old girl and a three-month-old boy.
“It’s incredible how safe and happy the girls are here,” says Cindy Paisio, an Australian counsellor who works with the girls, trying to heal the physical and emotional scars. “Most of the girls here were forced into prostitution or beaten and abused by their employers.”
Nshange says many Tanzanian girls begin working at a young age as domestic servants, cleaning and cooking for wealthier families. When they are no longer needed for house work, sometimes they are put out in the street with nowhere else to go, as their kin no longer want them back, so they end up in vulnerable situations.
The Tanzania director of Girls Foundation, an American-run organization providing educational opportunities for adolescent Tanzanian girls, Gwyneth Hesser, believes there’s no other place like Pippi House.
“Most of the girls Pippi supports were former housegirls who had run away after being physically or sexually abused and ended up on the streets,” she says. “Some of them were sent by their families to work as housegirls at such a young age that they no longer even remembered the names of their villages, or how to locate their families.”
Family reconciliation is a priority for Pippi House. But Nshange admits not many families are eager to take their girls back, so all of them remain at Pippi House for an indefinite amount of time. When asked about their living conditions, the girls say they feel as if they’re a part of a family again. A 22-year-old living at Pippi House is even going back to primary school, taking classes with 10-year-old kids.
“When the girls first came here they didn’t know how to read or how to write,” Nshange says. “Here we give them a chance to continue their education.”
An old adage says it takes a village to raise a child, but at Pippi House, it takes a safe home and family environment to instill confidence in abused girls. Nshange hopes to see each girl become a healthy, educated young woman. He’s now looking for funds to keep the doors at Pippi House open and the project sustainable for the long-term.
“Karibu tena,” he says. Come back again soon.