It all started in 2004 a few years since I was working  in Mwanza, Tanzania, for a well known Italian company.

Paolo on Victoria lakeMwanza the second largest city of Tanzania, lays on the shores of Lake Victoria in northern part of the Country. The city itself is rather small, although in recent years is rapidly developing, and the almost half a million inhabitants is distributed in the vast rural areas that surround the small town center. The predominant colors of the region are the bright green vegetation and the red soil saturated with minerals.

At that time, as her residence permit would not allow her to work, my wife Diane started volunteering by teaching English to young people in a center helping people affected by HIV, run by the Missionary Sisters of the Sisterhood of the Sisters of Our Lady of Africa.

Those are the circumstances that made us met Sr. Anna Brigitta, from the same Sisterhood.

In addition to teaching in a secondary school in the city, Sr. Anna since few years was taking care of a leprosy Camp a few kilometers far from Mwanza.

When we think of leprosy in the "first world", the old school books came back to our mind, ages and situations now far in our memory, but instead in what we call "third world" leprosy is still a reality against which men and women are still fighting.

Diane had previously worked with an NGO that dealt with this issue; therefore, as soon as she met Sr. Anna, she requested to visit the camp.

The Bukumbi Leprosy Camp was originally established by the Government of Tanzania in 1972 with the unstated objective of gathering the lepers far from the city, cleaning up the streets from sick people and beggars, under the pretext of offering them a home, land to cultivate and the protection of an organization that was supposed to take care of their basic needs such as food and medical assistance. No one has been transferred into the Camp by force and many have moved in with their whole family. The reason that drove these people to accept the transfer is to be found in the deep cultural roots of African villages, where a leper and his family are considered a curse for the whole community, where the son of a leper, is marked with the seal and considered himself a leper. In this area are still frequent cases of "witchcraft" operated on lepers with the intent to eliminate them physically.

The medical organization organized by the government unfortunately does not have adequate resources and funds to provide food and medical care to the sick.

So every day Sr. Anna, alone, faces her struggle to take care of this community. Every Tuesday she loads her old Toyota with sugar, corn flour, wheat flour, lard, millet, dried fish, salt, soap and Vaseline and brings all the supplies to the camp.

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Over the years she also managed to motivate a group of young people who have started growing vegetables on land near the Camp. Vegetables being brought to the people in the Camp do not come from the city, but it is bought from them and every person receives a small quota that will be their livelihood for a week.

In this way, Sr. Anna has achieved two goals: to make these young people self sufficient, and to give an example to follow for the wider community.

In Bukumbi Leprosi Camp, more than 50 children live together with their families, and each one of them dreams of a future different from their everyday life.

Some of them are already HIV positive, others orphans, but all malnourished, ill-clad and with no prospect but to grow within the boundaries of the "Bukumbi Leprosy Camp."

It was not possible to remain indifferent to all this.

In certain situations it is even too easy to put your hand in the wallet and decide to do something that will free our conscience, make you feel proud, and let you sleep in peace for the rest of your life. Problems though do not get resolved in this way, and humility must always guide our steps.

We started to make a contribution for the collection of food and medicines, Diane began to accompany Sr. Anna to the Camp almost every week, but we felt that this was not enough.

One evening, Diane and I went to talk to Sr. Anna and we asked her to tell us if we could help her to realize a project, a dream she may had for all those people who live in Bukumbi Leprosy Camp.

It took a few moments, it was as if she already knew the reason that pulled us in her house that night, and it was easy for her to reveal her dream. "I would like to give a better future for all those children living in the camp. I would like to create a nursery on the sidelines of the Camp that may also be open to children of nearby villages. In this way we could encourage the integration and make it clear to the adults that lepers children or grandchildren are normal children, with the same joyous love of life of every child in the world. "

While she explained the details of her plan, her eyes where shining with love, an immeasurable love, I had never known before. We fell in love with her project, her enthusiasm, at the same speed with which we fell in love with the smiles of those children half-naked in the camp.

Sr. Anna soon found a piece of land on the border of the Camp. We purchased it, donated it to her organization and started the construction. In a few months it became a full Montessori Kindergarten with adjacent accommodation for the teacher, bathroom, kitchen, small playground and all the furniture needed.

All the forces of the universe have conspired to ensure that the dream of Sr. Anna took place. We only were the arms that helped her build it.

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In 2007, this project became "Colours of Life" an NGO that through the remote adoption system takes care of the nursery and of all children who attend it.

The nursery is already in its 10th school year. This year it hosts 45 children, including several from the villages surrounding the camp. In ten years over 300 children have been sent to primary school, and all are giving great satisfaction.

For those wishing to learn more:

Author: Paolo Pagnotta