Note: Christine lost her battle with cancer on Friday, March 30, 2012 while visiting South Africa. Her friends tell us, "She left this earth doing what she loved best; enhancing the lives of her people!" Christine's family is requesting donations to help them bring her body back to the U.S. If you would like to help, you can contribute via PayPal using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org .
EL SOBRANTE (CBS SF) - This week's Jefferson Award winner is an East Bay teacher who immigrated to the United States 20 years ago. But she has never forgotten the experience of being new to a country and culture, and she never forgot the homeland she left behind. So she's using her experience to change lives both in the Bay Area and in the African village that was once her home.
You'll find the village of Shirati, Tanzania near the banks of Lake Victoria. You'll also find a lot of work going on: a new school - a new rainwater collection system, and improvements to the hospital. It's all thanks in large part to the efforts of a woman who lives 10,000 miles away.
Her name is Christine Nyanda-Chacha. But most people know her as Mama Chacha. She's bridging the distance between what was once her home in Africa and the Bay Area, where she now lives and teaches high school.
"I was an orphan since the age of three," Chacha remembered. "Without going to school, I would have been married at the age of 12."
Instead, she went to university, graduated from law school, and came to the United States. For the last decade she and her husband have lived in El Sobrante, where they've opened their home to help others.
"(We) support immigrants when they come here," Chacha explained. "We give them orientation - help them survive like I survived here."
She founded the non-profit AISICS: African Immigrants Social and Cultural Services. And like her nick-name implies, Mama Chacha takes care of new arrivals like Denis Semuguruka.
"A lot of times when people come here they feel out of place," said Semuguruka. "They feel lonely... so they definitely need somewhere where they can relate and a mother is everything."
Semuguruka got his green card in 1999. He says Mama Chacha helps families navigate a new culture and connects them to resources so they can be successful.
And at the same time she's introducing Bay Area students to village life.
"They volunteer in hospitals, in schools, they teach English. They work with women's groups like the global fund for women," said Chacha. "We also provide scholarships for girls."
By connecting Bay Area organizations and students with projects in Africa, Mama Chacha is changing lives on both continents.
"It inspired me to kind of want to give back to them for the life realization they gave to me," said San Pablo student Brianna Brooks. "I wanted to help them and start a fundraiser."
Seventeen-year-old Brooks is raising money to fund a meal program at the local hospital in Shirati.
"I need to re-think why I'm so wrapped up in these materialistic things, and start appreciating the little things in life," Brooks said.
Recently diagnosed with cancer, Mama Chacha hasn't slowed down. She proudly displayed photos of her student projects and is looking forward to future successes both at home and overseas.
"I just want to make a difference," she said. "When I was young, without people helping me, I would not have been here. I want to give pay back. And paying back is to do something that is tangible like this."
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