Childhood immunization rates have climbed to 98 percent in Tanzanian villages hosting AHEAD projects; Tanzanian girls can now opt for education instead of early marriage and more than 450 young people have completed vocational training in electronics, horticulture, carpentry, and computer science.
Those accomplishments demonstrate the success and tenacity of efforts that began more than 40 years ago when Dr. Irving Williams treated a Tanzanian child at Boston Children’s Hospital. That encounter launched events that have improved more than one million lives.
AHEAD in Its Early Years
1974: After treating a Tanzanian child at Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Irving Williams looks into working in an African country. He ultimately gets a job at Bugando Hospital in Mwanza, Tanzania. He and his wife, Elvira, are stunned by the health challenges they encounter. Often a parent would bring a child to the hospital, only to have the child die on the examination table. After two years, the couple return to the United States, determined to use their talents and resources to improve conditions they saw in Tanzania.
1981: The Williams establish AHEAD – Adventures in Health, Education and Agricultural Development – in the United States. Dr. Irving Williams serves as medical director and Elvira Williams becomes the executive director. The organization’s approach grows from a conclusion Dr. Williams reached during his first stint in Tanzania: good health requires good nutrition; good nutrition requires good agriculture; and education is the change agent for sustainability.
1985: At the invitation of the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, AHEAD sets up its first operation in 12 villages in the Shinyanga Rural District south of Lake Victoria. The workdays were long: from 8 a.m. until flashlights and lanterns could no longer illuminate the clinic. The Williams saw that a mother’s health determined the child’s health, so they expanded the program to include prenatal services and family planning.
1988: The second team of AHEAD volunteers spends a month in Tanzania treating adults and children. For six days a week, the group rides and walks to villages, treating a range of conditions: malnutrition to malaria to polio. AHEAD installs a solar-run electric system to provide light for nighttime childbirth and a solar-run refrigerator to store vaccines and other medication.
1993: AHEAD extends its program about 110 miles to the Meatu District, where there is a critical need for its services. Most villages lack a health facility, so clinics are held in schools, under trees or at the office of the village chief. Although the surroundings are undeveloped, AHEAD makes significant strides:
- For children under 5, immunization rates bounce from 27% to 98%
- Antenatal care increases from 4% to 70%
- The malnutrition rate decreases from 20% to less than 2%
- Photovoltaic systems are installed at health centers and at one of the poorest hospitals in the entire region
- Five dispensaries are constructed in Meatu District
1993: AHEAD accepted an invitation from The Gambia to create development programs for the nation’s youth. The
2000: UNICEF recognizes AHEAD for increasing childhood immunizations, prenatal services and access to family planning in Shinyanga Region.
2002: Because of AHEAD and its efforts, Meatu District rises from last to first place when it comes to the overall health of Tanzanian children.
2003: AHEAD wins the Ashden Award, the world’s only award for renewable energy, for teaching villagers to pasteurize and purify water with solar cookers made from cardboard. Dr. Irving Williams receives the award in a London ceremony from HRH Princess Anne.
2003: AHEAD moves across Tanzania to the Kisarawe District near the Indian Ocean. The organization’s emphasis shifts to education because many children have no more than a third-grade education. Girls, especially, are pushed into early marriages so their families can receive the bride price. AHEAD provides scholarships for girls to attend school. The organization also establishes a vocational school for all youth in the district.
2005: Dr. Irving Williams wins the Cardinal Heath Children’s Care Award
from the World of Children for his exceptional work helping over 1.5 million children in the United States, Tanzania and The Gambia. This award was established to recognize individuals who have made a significant lifetime contribution to the health and well-being of children.
2005: AHEAD constructs the first of two dormitories for girls going to secondary school in villages. The buildings provide a secure environment for young women who risked sexual exploitation while trying to complete their education.
2010s- Present Day
2010: AHEAD raises money for obstetric transport systems in Tanzania. The organization’s fundraising effort is joined by North Bethesda United Methodist Church in Bethesda, Md.
2011: In its Gambian villages, AHEAD introduces “rocket stoves” and heat-retention ovens. These cooking devices cook faster and use less wood than traditional methods, so they save resources and reduce air pollution. In order to promote self-reliance, AHEAD sells the stoves and teaches women to make the heat-retention ovens.
2012: AHEAD finishes a second girls’ hostel at Janguo Secondary School. Forty-eight girls have a safe place to study and live.
2013: AHEAD helps women in five Gambia villages launch a soap making enterprise. Although most of the soap makers sell their products to other villagers, two villages supply markets and small shops.
2017: Bukara Secondary School in Maruku, Tanzania works with AHEAD and implements electrification and girl’s latrines projects.