Emma Donaldson

East Africa update: How making just a small change can totally transform lives

Emma Donaldson has been working at Railway Children for six years. She visited our projects in Tanzania to see first hand how our work is changing the lives of hundreds of children in Africa.

For one reason and another it’s taken me a long time to get out to one of our projects myself so I was really looking forward seeing the programmes and people I’d heard so much about over the years.

I’m in regular contact with members of our team based in Africa and those in the UK who travel back and forth a lot. I’ve read and written reports about the work there so I thought I knew what to expect.

Emma with child's family


Seeing the extreme level of poverty and how much people were struggling still deeply affected me. It was really hard emotionally. I met a family where the children were really quiet and subdued – it took a while for me to realise that they were simply starving.

When families have so little, making just a small change can totally transform their lives and that was so clear to me when I went to visit our day centre in Mwanza.

It was part-funded by our UK aid match campaign last year and only just opened in October but was already a hive of activity. It was really inspiring to see the impact our work there is having and how these children’s lives are being changed.

The centre was such a happy place – full of energy and laughter. 



The children that visited spent time on creative activities and each one had a shoe box filled with their own work. They were so excited to show me what they’d made – they had real pride in their work.

They had written their dreams on bits of paper and made a ‘pocket of wisdom’ to keep them in and the atmosphere was so positive and supportive.

The staff really engaged with the children and gained their trust which allowed them to open up and talk about their families. This meant our teams could work on reuniting the children and making sure they had a sustainable future at home with a family that could support itself.


Going on to then visit the families in their villages helped me see how this influenced their home lives too. Knowing that a family who once relied on physical discipline to communicate, had worked with one of our team and actually changed the way they behaved was really inspiring.

The staff had created games and tools to help families communicate and play together – often for the first time in their lives.

It’s such a small thing to help people take pride in themselves and each other but once they appreciate their strengths and learn how to work together they can improve their lives enormously.

They can create their own safe, happy and secure future, together.