Story Written by Scott Roberts
Today, Deogratias Riwa, known as Deo, is living the life of a typical college student. He’s making friends, worrying about classes and looking forward to a future where he can use his biochemistry degree he’s pursuing at Memorial University in Newfoundland to make an impact on the world and within his home country as a doctor.
But ten years ago, the thought of going to school was unimaginable. He was an orphan in a poor village in Tanzania, without much hope of accomplishing anything. Then he was taken in by the organization, Make A Difference (http://www.MakeADifferenceNow.org), whose mission is to provide quality educational opportunities for vulnerable children. Through the organization he gained a family, food and quality education. He excelled in his studies at the private local school Make A Difference sent him to. Because of this aid, and his hard work, he eventually found his way to Newfoundland, almost 6,700 miles away.
“Make A Difference has really changed my life and I don’t know where I would be without the organization,” Deo, said. “It has been everything to me – my support, everything.”
Deo’s parents died when he was very young, and he was living with his grandparents before Make A Difference took him in. Deo often had to help his grandparents and couldn’t focus on much more. “With Make A Difference I was able to get a quality education, food, safe water and everything that I needed,” Deo stated. “Moreover, I was able to get a family. Being an orphan means you miss the parental care a person must have, so at the orphanage (which was helped being run by Make A Difference) I got to be with 21 other children who had similar backgrounds as me.”
Deo said they all lived like brothers and sisters and were able to go to a local private school with a high standard of academics. He continued, “Make A Difference’s founder, Theresa Grant tried her best to be like our mom. She provided us with everything. She took us horseback riding, she took us for swimming, everything.”
Deo did so well in his studies that he was accepted into a college abroad. Grant said MAD never planned to send students outside of their home country to study. However, she explained. “When a child shows that they’re willing to work hard and they’re excelling at school we want to take them to their highest level. In some cases it means they may need to leave their home country for a short while to get the quality of education they need in order to make a difference back home. This certainly applies to Deo’s goal to be a doctor when he returns to Tanzania. Seeing how things are done abroad enables students to take what they learn and apply it later” She asked, “How can they improve medicine and the infrastructure in their home countries without seeing top notch hospitals, well built bridges and roads?” So with the help of a college advisor in Tanzania, Grant and Deo found Memorial College in Newfoundland. The school had the medical program Deo wanted to study, would be affordable and offered fewer challenges concerning visas and international requirements for the USA and other countries.
However, the journey to Canada would feel even longer than the nearly 6,700 miles Deo would travel to get there. He found out he was accepted into Memorial University four days before school began, got his visa to travel just three days before and his ticket just two days before. “I didn’t expect that the University would accept my application,” Deo remarked. “As soon as I found out I couldn’t wait to tell my friends and my family.” Make A Difference acted quickly and got his ticket just hours after his visa came in.
Once Deo got his visa, Make A Difference sent him a document on tips for taking a flight. He had never been on a plane before, let alone out of his country. During his travels he was stopped in Dublin, Ireland because he had a transit visa, but not a specific visa for Ireland. After all his hard work academically, neither the organization nor Deo knew if he was going to be able to complete his journey! He spent the night in the airport before things were finally straightened out and eventually Deo was allowed to continue on.
When he eventually arrived into Canada, he discovered that his bag he checked with his school supplies and personal belongings hadn’t made it. He literally had nothing but the clothes on his back ; just the way he was before Make A Difference originally took him under its wing, but with far more knowledge. That’s when Make A Difference stepped forward again to help.
The organization utilized both Facebook and Amazon to gather up resources for him from soaps and sheets to a calculator and laptop. They posted Deo’s situation on their Facebook page and then created a Wish List for people to purchase items. “I received a lot of things from a “Wish List” Make A Difference setup on Amazon,” Deo said. “I received clothes, I received shoes, school supplies and so much more. I now have everything I need. I was very thankful for what they did.”
One of Make A Difference’s alumni, Gail MacNeil who is now living in Bermuda but grew up near Newfoundland saw the post and immediately wanted to help. She visited the orphanage the organization once had with her family a few years ago, and was moved by the organization’s mission to provide quality education for vulnerable children.
“I’ve achieved a moderate amount of success in my career and I wanted to help make the world a better place,” MacNeil said. “I want my kids to appreciate what they have.”
MacNeil said, “I couldn’t wrap my mind around this kid who made his way all the way to Canada without ever being on a plane before. What was he thinking when he landed in a strange place, it’s overwhelming really.”MacNeil reached out to a couple of friends she had in Newfoundland and she said there was an instant response.
“No one hesitated a moment,” MacNeil explained. “They could see he was in need.”
MacNeil said she felt great that everyone was “operating in the background like a little network.”
Deo also received help from the University to get the things he needed until his bags showed up from the airport. A student working at the University, Warren Moore, picked him up at the airport and purchased a toothbrush, coat and other essential items he needed to make a smooth transition.
Deo is now working away at his studies and hopes to complete his degree in three years with summer classes.
His tuition is being paid for this year by an anonymous donor through Make A Difference, and sometimes when Deo looks back he still can’t believe he is actually pursuing a college degree when most children in his village never get the chance to make it past junior high due to poverty and illness. “It’s like a dream,” Deo said. “I didn’t really have faith I could be here, but I am. Thanks to Make A Difference for what they have done.” With the help of education Deo plans to return to his home country of Tanzania as a surgeon. He’d also like to have an orphanage so he can help children rise out of poverty just like he’s been helped.
To learn more about Deo or support his journey go to: Meet the Children