Girls singing about HIV health.

Shocked by Reality in Mozambique, One Girl Took Action

• May. 19, 2014 • helpers, Popular, Special FeatureComments (1)2793

How a Lofty 24-Year-Old from Illinois Is Working to Curb Infectious Diseases in Mozambique

Tanya Singh, Founder of The Love of Jesus Project.

Tanya Singh, Founder of The Love of Jesus Project.

Tanya Singh, a 24-year-old from Mahomet, Illinois, has dedicated a significant portion of her life to serving others. While giving back locally has always been important to Tanya, she decided she wanted to expand her horizons, and in 2010 she left for Mozambique. But the rampant poverty and dire conditions were even more severe than she could have ever imagined. “I certainly was not prepared for what I saw,” Tanya says. “The disease, poverty, and suffering were shocking.”

Growing up in a small town in the US Midwest, Tanya is a potent combination of simple traditional values and a fierce global ambition driven by clarity of purpose. She has embarked on a journey to provide access to healthcare education in distant Mozambique, a Southeast African nation with one of the world’s highest mortality rates from AIDS. All it took was a stint with the Peace Corps for 24-year-old Tanya Singh to start a non-profit organization that supports the ongoing efforts on the ground in Mozambique.

The village of Mahomet is a tiny speck on the map of Central Illinois, overshadowed by the comparatively larger twin-towns of neighboring Champaign-Urbana.  A strong spiritual grounding and family values of this close-knit community provided a fertile environment for Tanya to grow up caring for those in need. “My parents were very generous to anyone needing help, and from the time I remember, we were in soup kitchens, food drives, charities, and participating in some kind of social service,” she says talking about her earliest influences – her father, who works for the University of Illinois, and her mother -a nurse.

Though Tanya grew up in a small town with a strong sense of local community service, she always had her eyes on the world. “I was interested in the underdeveloped countries, and wanted to do social work internationally.”

After graduating from the Mahomet-Seymour High School in her hometown in 2006 at eighteen, Tanya took on an 8-month project through the YMCA to teach English to elementary school children in Peru. The experience living outside of the US would prepare her for the bigger journey ahead.

Tanya Singh with her friends in Mozambique

Tanya Singh with her friends in Mozambique

Returning home, she majored in community health education at the nearby Illinois State University. In her senior year of college, Tanya applied for the Peace Corps, which provides volunteers an opportunity to do developmental work for 27 months in places around the world. That very summer, she was offered the chance to go to either Africa or South America. Having lived and experienced life in Peru, Tanya felt that she was ready for bigger challenges, and in 2010, was on the flight to Mozambique.

After three months of training, which included learning the nation’s first language Portuguese, Tanya began her work in the countryside. It was only when she was transferred to the city of Mocuba, she found her true calling. She began work with a non-profit organization called Osivela wa Yesu, which means “for the love of Jesus” in Lomway one of Mozambique’s native languages. Osivela Wa Yesu and its work would later inspire Tanya’s own non-profit.

“In Mocuba, there is extensive work needed with patients affected with HIV,” she says.  “Osivela Wa Yesu runs a preschool and an orphan care center and provides schooling, supplies, health care and food. They were desperately in need of help in the areas of educating the community about disease prevention,” she says.

Training teens and young adults in building perma-garden.

Training teens and young adults in building perma-garden.

A former Portuguese colony, Mozambique has been ravaged by decades of civil war and epidemics like malaria, cholera, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

From providing mosquito nets aimed at preventing mosquito-borne malaria to organizing theater performances for children to spread messages about HIV prevention, and garnering resources to improve the quality of relevant education, Tanya has invested all her energy to make a difference in this little African nation.

“Health education is crucial. Despite being a peaceful place now, decades of war have left the country crippled. People are vulnerable to serious epidemics. The young in particular need a lot of education about sexual behavior and HIV prevention,” she says. “Disease prevention and education are the two most important things we need to focus on.”

A malaria prevention session.

A malaria prevention session.

With the expenses mounting, Tanya soon understood that it was necessary for more support and access to a larger network, especially to sustain the campaign for HIV prevention, and youth development. She decided to continue supporting the cause even after her stint with the Peace Corps.

Returning to the US in 2012, Tanya and her husband Jason Singh, an accounting major, began to evaluate all options and finally started their own non-profit “The Love of Jesus Project” in 2013.

Kindergarten graduates lining up.

Kindergarten graduates lining up.

“We are not affiliated to any church,” reminds Tanya. “Our name is inspired by the organization in Mozambique. People do mistake us to be a religious organization because of the name.”

Now, Tanya is doing her Masters of Public Health with a focus in Epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I need to equip myself with the knowledge and education to take this forward,” she says.

While college takes up the bulk of her time, she is continuing to work part-time to raise money for her non-profit. “Through personal networks we have raised some funds but it’s just not enough,” she says, though she’s looking forward to completing her education, and taking on the cause in Mozambique full time. Her immediate goal after college is to build a network of donors and sponsors.

For the long-term, Tanya envisions building a localized education curriculum for schools in Mozambique. “The education system currently is not relevant to local issues. I want to develop a relevant curriculum but I know it will take time and a lot of resources,” she says, firmly grounded in reality while demonstrating an undeterred focus toward future ambitions.

As of now, Tanya’s start-up is awaiting tax-exempt status from the IRS.

Photos courtesy of Tanya Singh, The Love of Jesus Project

What to learn more?

The Love of Jesus Project (LOJP) is a non-for-profit organization which supports specific projects within the organization of Osivela wa Yesu. It is founded by Tanya and Jason Singh. Tanya served in the Peace Corps from 2010 to 2012 and worked with Osivela wa Yesu for fifteen months of her service. Jason also visited Mozambique twice and was able to visit the organization and see the good work that it was doing in the community of Mocuba.

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