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WFU faculty member helps African grandmothers raise their grandchildren orphaned by AIDS

June 12, 2008

Grandmothers raising their grandchildren orphaned by AIDS in Kenya and Tanzania are learning skills and developing economic self-reliance through a program created by Wake Forest University faculty member Mary Martin Niepold.

The Nyanya Project, a non-profit agency, trains the grandmothers, who are called “nyanya” in Swahili, to organize cooperatives and earn income through the sale of handmade crafts and agricultural products.  Where necessary, the project also helps secure clean water and shelter for the women.

Niepold will lead a 20-person team of volunteers June 15 on a two-week trip to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, where they will help local workers build a house for several grandmothers and their orphaned grandchildren.  The entourage consists of seven students Niepold has taught at Wake Forest; four students from the North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking, who are producing a documentary about the project; and other supporters and relatives, including two grandchildren.

Niepold, a journalism instructor at Wake Forest, founded the nonprofit organization in 2006 after spending several weeks that summer volunteering in orphanages in Kenya and learning that no government programs existed to help the grandmothers.

"I couldn’t believe that there was nobody helping them,” Niepold said.  “I wanted to create a program where they could learn skills to keep their families together.”

Estimates place the number of children who have become orphans by losing both parents to HIV/AIDS and being raised by their grandmothers at more than one million in Kenya and more than a half-million in Tanzania.

Niepold was offered help by Samuel G. Gichere, chief economist of Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, who joined The Nyanya Project’s board of directors.  Partnering with several Africa-based nongovernmental organizations, The Nyanya Project soon established four grandmother cooperatives in Kenya.

The program expanded to Tanzania in 2007 after Niepold met that country’s former prime minister, Frederick Sumaye, and he also joined her board of directors.  Sumaye will meet with the visiting volunteers during their stay in Dar Es Salaam to discuss current conditions in the country.

Most of the group traveling to Tanzania will return to Winston-Salem June 30.  Niepold will travel to Kenya to check on the cooperatives in operation there.

Other Nyanya Project board members include Sylvain Boko, Zachary T. Smith Associate Professor of Economics at Wake Forest; Edwin G. Wilson, Provost Emeritus at Wake Forest; Margaret Jesang Hutchinson, executive director of the Education Centre for Women in Democracy in Nairobi, Kenya, and a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi; and Mil Niepold, a senior program consultant to Verité, an international nonprofit labor-rights advocacy organization.

More information about The Nyanya Project may be found online at

Press Contacts:

Eric Frazier
(336) 758-5237

Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237

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