SIX years ago, the Times told the story of Letty McMaster, the grammar-school girl from Langton Green whose visit to an orphanage in Tanzania in 2013 set off a chain of events that changed not just her life but many more.
This week, we caught up with Letty as she prepared to head back to Kent from Tanzania for her annual charity fundraising ball, ten years since her first trip to the East African country.
The former Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar School (TWGGS) girl was visiting Iringa in Central Tanzania on her gap year when she found evidence of child abuse at an orphanage there.
“After seeing the abuse the children were receiving, I was determined to set up a home where they could be safe and have a family,” she told the Times.
Three years after that moment in 2013, the orphanage was closed down, and after many months of inspections and meetings, Letty became the legal guardian of nine children who could not be re-homed.
“In September 2016, I set up a place for these children to call home, so they could gain an education and grow up in a safe and loving environment,” said Letty.
Letty spends most of her time in Tanzania, working for her charity, Street Children Iringa.
The annual fundraising ball helps finance the charity’s work, which includes the children’s food, education and medical needs. This year it is on March 11 at High Rocks, Tunbridge Wells.
“This year is extra special as it marks 10 years since I first went to Tanzania so we are hoping to make it the biggest fundraiser yet,” Letty said.
“We have done the ball for seven years and it is always a big part of the funding for the year.
“All the money raised goes to Street Children Iringa.”
POINTS OF LIGHT
Letty was recognised by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a ‘Points of Light’ award for inspirational volunteers in December 2020.
Closer to home, her former head teacher at TWGGS, Linda Wybar, told the Times: “At TWGGS, we are incredibly proud of all that Letty has achieved since leaving school.
“She truly has changed lives through her determination and dedication, and the achievements of her charity in Tanzania are nothing short of remarkable.”
“I have every confidence Letty’s grit and desire to give these children better life chances will ensure it [the charity] goes from strength to strength, and we wish her every success in the future.”
HOME FROM HOME
The original Street Children Iringa home was set up in 2016, and as of 2022 has been a long-term home for 15 children and supported another 21 children and young adults for shorter periods of time.
In 2019, Letty opened a second home, the Safe House, to help more street children away from the streets, and as of October it had provided a safe space for over 50 children and young adults, and supported 20 off the streets and into educational or vocational courses, she said.
“The Safe House supports up to 30 current street children and young adults with a safe place, to gain support and guidance in a life away from the streets.
“Where possible, street children are re-homed with relatives and supported from there, via day and night street visits,” she explained.
Street Children Iringa also supports young girls out of early childhood marriage and into education.
Twin girls Eva and Lidia, who ran away from child marriage at the age of 11, are both now in university.
Simoni was at the orphanage in 2013. He is now 18 and studying an electrical course.
Letty found Gosberth on the streets in 2014, aged 10, and him took to primary school. Due to his outstanding results, he is now studying at the top A-level private school in the country and is hoping to study at a university abroad.
“Pascal, who I took in in 2019, could not read or write, but now he is one of my helpers at the Safe House and carries out street visits to find new children.
Meanwhile, Fred and Eliah are now growing teenagers. Fred is training to be accepted into the best football academy in Tanzania, while Eliah is at secondary school and dreams of becoming a doctor.
“The youngest boys in the house are aged 10 and are studying in their fourth year of primary school. They both lived harsh lives on the streets before we welcomed them into the family home. They are now thriving in school and loving life,” said Letty.
Outside of the home, the charity is supporting another nine children and young adults through their education, with seven in secondary school and two at university.
Letty herself managed to gain her degree in Development Studies and Social Anthropology from SOAS, while regularly travelling back and forth between Tanzania and London.
“I spent most of my time during my degree in Tanzania, doing my uni work online, setting up the house and raising the kids. Then after finishing, I fully moved out to Tanzania,” she told the Times.
The Street Children Iringa annual fundraising ball takes place on March 11 at High Rocks, Fairview Lane.
The evening of dinner and dancing in the Great Hall Barn starts with welcome drinks at 7pm, and includes a silent auction and raffle. Carriages at 1am.
The dress code is formal. Tickets are £55, which includes a donation toward the family home, safe house and other ongoing projects in Tanzania.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with ticket requests.
Details of the charity account for payment will be sent by return of post.