In 1998, the idea for the Ilula Orphan Project was developed in correspondence and conversations between Norwegian-American founder Berit Skaare and her long time Tanzanian Girl Guide friend, Joyce Msolla.

The main goal of the project was to provide children in Ilula-Itunda who lost parents to malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS with school fees gathered from international sponsors. Initially, the project was run from Indiana, where Berit was living at the time, and provided support for five students. As the number of sponsored students grew, Berit decided to move to Ilula to establish systems for the sponsorship program in 2001.

Once there, she began to work with members of the local community, finding sponsors in the United States and Europe for an ever-increasing number of students and creating additional programs, beginning with the Kid’s Corner Preschool. In 2003, the IOP was registered as an official non-governmental organization in Tanzania, and in that same year construction began on the Ilula Orphan Center, which would house orphan girls and serve as office space and a community center anchoring the growing constellation of IOP projects.

With support from a number of donors including the Norwegian Embassy, Norwegian Church Aid, Norwegian YWCA Girl Guides and the Clinton Foundation, the Ilula Orphan Center (IOC) welcomed its first seven residents in March 2006. During the same period, the IOP initiated its Foster Family Program, which has grown to support around 560 orphaned children living in foster families throughout the community.

The IOP has worked to increase its financial sustainability through the development of a variety of organizational income-generating activities, including a 65 acre farm raising cows, pigs, chickens, goats, vegetables, grains, fruits and a tree nursery; a suite of workshops employing seamstresses, carpenters and shoemakers; and a shopping center containing dry goods, a clothing shop, and a small café. Some additional recent initiatives include the Lord’s Hill High School, which opened in 2012; a 651 acre farm under development; the Holland House of Books Public Library; and the establishment of VICOBA (Village Community Banking) groups in 16 neighboring villages.

In April, 2015 the IOP reached a major turning point when founding Managing Director Berit Skaare officially retired (and assumed a position as Chair of the Board of Directors) and Edson Msigwa became the Managing Director. Today, IOP continues its work within the region, and has established an ambitious Strategic Plan 2015-2019. For a summary of these future plans, visit the Future of IOP.

All of the programs and initiatives created by the IOP aim to overcome global challenges in the realms of human development, health, and environment on a local scale in the Iringa Region of Tanzania. Understanding global issues can help provide more comprehensive solutions to pressing local matters. Local action can produce global change.