Havilah children and staff wake up each morning to breathtaking views of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Neru. Tourism is the economic driver here. Many Europeans come to Tanzania to go on safari.

However, despite the infusion of outside dollars into the local economy, the number of orphans is rising.

Malaria is the No. 1 killer in the Arusha region, but HIV/AIDS may soon surpass it. Most reported cases are female. Orphaned children are left in the care of grandmothers or other relatives with few extra resources. According to the region’s government, Arushan women are underserved and undereducated.

Progress is slow and mostly focused on the next generation of Tanzanians. That’s why the couple started Global Vessels.

Submit a Letter to the Editor for the Laurel Leader, Columbia Flier and Howard County Times

“There’s really no middle class there,” says Frazier Mathis. “You either have or you don’t.”

Frazier is a cabinet maker; Virginia teaches computer science at a private school in Takoma Park. They started the charity in 1998, after going on a mission trip with their church to Ghana. They spent one day bathing 28 orphaned babies being raised in a house the size of their Howard County living room.

Through Global Vessels, the couple provides for the basic needs of orphans while also contributing to Arusha’s local economy by employing teachers and laborers and buying local goods — except shoes and clothes, which are donated by Americans.

“We want to raise these children to be the very best Tanzanians they can be,” says Frazier. “We believe these children are one day going to be the leaders in their country.”

During the school year, Frazier flies to the African country once a quarter for 10 days to monitor Havilah’s operations. On a recent trip he went to the local market and bought bags of beans. Taking them back to Havilah, he had the children divide the beans into smaller bags and take them to the families in the town.

Later he did the same thing with sugar, then clothes. The children gathered the clothes that had been donated to them that they had outgrown, and took them to neighboring children. After all the clothes had been given out, the orphans hopped into their van to go home when a child came running out into the street crying that he didn’t get any clothes. A Havilah child, Simon, 5, jumped out of the van, pulled off his T-shirt and gave it to the boy, recounts Frazier.

“They’re orphans, but that doesn’t negate that you can go and help someone else,” he says.

Havilah was built concrete block by concrete block (the orphanage has its own block making machine) by the joint efforts of American volunteers and Arushans. Every summer, the Mathises take a team of volunteers, both teens and adults, to build and to work with the children. In July, the 32-member team had a goal of putting a second floor on the administration/school building.

One of the volunteers, Tom Gross, however, had a unique job. Gross, who owns Fireside Stone & Patio in Kendall’s Hardware in Clarksville, met Frazier Mathis in the store one day. After learning about Havilah, he asked if it got cold in Tanzania. Yes, replied Mathis. They deal with it by using small space heaters and lots of extra blankets. Gross offered to get two wood burning stoves donated to the orphanage. With the help of Jotul stoves and Simpson Duravent, two stoves and venting were shipped in a sea container, along with desks and chairs surplussed from a nearby school district. When Gross learned that there was no one to install the stoves and vents, he knew what he had to do.

“I’m blessed with so much. I just felt a call to go,” he says.

As a result, Gross and his wife, Beth, joined the 2011 team in Tanzania.

It takes about $40,000 a year to run the orphanage. That includes paying the house mothers, the teachers for the preschoolers, parochial school tuition for the older kids, food and medical care. The directors, who are usually Americans supported by mission organizations or family and friends, get a very small stipend. “Enough to buy deodorant,” says Virginia Mathis.

There is a third house ready to house 10 more children, but the Mathises are resolved not to take any more in until they have a sponsor for each child.

While the Mathises are exploring opportunities to help in other countries, they’re not rushing ahead.
“An orphanage is a lifelong commitment,” says Virginia.

“It’s every day asking people, ‘Do you want to help us?’ ” says Frazier.

When he contemplates what’s been accomplished so far, and what lies ahead, he can only thank God.