Flora Lauo exemplifies both inner and outer beauty
By the time we hung up, though, she was referring to me as “dear” with an undeniable, almost maternal warmth.
And that’s exactly how she was when we finally met. She welcomed me with a big smile and a welcoming tone that hugged you like a blanket—the way she embraces the numerous children who know her as ‘Mommy.’
Flora, a tall and youthful woman, is married and has two children of her own. But as the founder of NIFO Hope Center, she’s adopted underprivileged children—many of whom have suffered from sexual and domestic abuse—and provided them with a safe haven away from the hostilities of the outside world. It sparked when she met impoverished and malnourished children in her hometown of Marangu, Kilimanjaro, and took them in to ensure that they wouldn’t die.
“I started with one child,” she recalled, “then the second, third…only to realize I [had] eight children in my house. At first my husband was like, ‘Are you trying to make my house a children’s center?’” She smiled at the memory.
As Flora continued to bring more children into her home, she became aware of their needs and challenges.
“Some could hardly speak Kiswahili; some did not even know how to use the bathroom. Some broke things in the house, tore the couches—they did things that, if you do not have the passion to help these tiny souls, you wouldn’t last with five of them in a week,” she said. “But I was patient and loving to them.”
Her patience and unconditional love blossomed out of her own struggles. Flora grew up in very tight financial conditions and dropped out of secondary. She went into hairdressing to make a living, but decided to do more after her salon was both robbed and flooded.
Today, she runs a business that supports multiple ventures, the Hope Center among them. In addition to the Hope Center, she also supports a Beauty College that helps teens from the center acquire knowledge in the beauty business. Her hope is to empower youths to achieve their goals, regardless of the circumstances they come from.
The Hope Center, in particular, has flourished since she first opened its doors. Its expansion came out of a lack of space: by the time 16 children were living in Flora’s three-bedroom home, she learned that it was illegal for her to house that many youths without going through some legal processes. Currently, Hope Center is a refuge to around 60 children and teenagers, although the number fluctuates.
Some children are only there for a short while, depending on how soon the Center’s team can find guardians who are capable of supporting them. “After that, if the relatives show willingness to take in the child, the Center just follows up with the child at the relative’s place,” Flora explained.
But other children are essentially permanent residents at the Center, due to their status as orphans or the insufficient conditions back home. For children who are victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, in particular, Flora finds it difficult to return the children to those situations.
Her eyes saddened as she reflected on the stories of children who faced those inhumane circumstances. “For example, one of the children here was raped by her uncle when she was three years old. As a result, the girl’s cervix had to be removed. She is such a beautiful child, but she can no longer bear her own child [one day],” she said. “I just can’t take this girl back to her home…the case is still in court,” she said.
Her refusal to send children back to similar home situations has kept them safe. But consequently, Flora has experienced threats to her own safety and well-being. “Some people take me for an enemy. My life is in danger because I care,” she sighed. “Even when driving, I have to make sure the windows are closed and locked.” She began to break down. “I am not 100 percent happy now,” she conceded. “There are incidents that make me worry about my life. Like once, people were sent to pour aside on me. But I was lucky; the police helped to stop the attack.” She stopped to wipe her tears.
The negative aspects are nothing to take lightly. In addition to the threats against her life, Flora also struggles to simply put food on the table. “There are times I don’t know what the children will eat the next day, because I don’t have enough money to buy them food,” she admitted. “I feel so bad, I just cry helplessly. But I just get the courage to ask some people, and I thank God, they offer their support.” Those individual donations are what keep the Center running, and Flora anticipates that they will continue to fund the Center moving forward.
And no matter what happens, Flora is committed to supporting the children who have stolen her heart.
“I really enjoy what I do for these children,” she gushed. “At times I go home late because some of the kids would want me to tuck them in bed. So I wait until they are asleep and then leave…I spend most of the time at the Center,” she said.
As she looks towards the future, Flora channels the joy and optimism that she feels when she’s with her children. With the Hope Center, Beauty College, and other successful ventures under her belt, she already has the gentle heart—and unshakeable grit—it takes to tackle what lies on the horizon.
Hi, am Theresia Christian, a mother, an academic at the St. Augustine University of Tanzania. Am also a small business owner. I am passionate about writing and reading, inspiring and learning from others. I am also part of Dreamlink team in Mwanza. Am just excited and glad to join this amazing platform..