A Long Island native was the subject of a “60 Minutes” segment that aired Sunday for her work in Tanzania — where she’s become the legal guardian to more than 90 children in the country.
India Howell, who grew up in Mill Neck, has run the Rift Valley Children’s Village with her business partner Peter Leon Mmassy since 2004. And together they’ve become adoptive parents to 95 children and counting who live in the village, according to Amber Oberc, a spokeswoman for the Tanzanian Children’s Fund.
Howell, 59, first came to Tanzania in 1998 to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with a friend, but became so enamored with the country she decided to quit her job as a CEO in Boston to settle there.
While working at a safari company, Howell told “60 Minutes,” she quickly learned of the area’s orphan problem.
“Part of my job required that I go to the city of Arusha every week, and every time you got out of the car, you were just swarmed with these ragged little boys, who, I soon discovered, were what we call ‘street children’ here. And my mission from the beginning was to identify these kids that are living at risk before they’re driven to the streets,” Howell told “60 Minutes.”
Howell later adopted her first child, a 3-year-old boy named Doctor, who was abandoned by one of her employees. She then took in three more children and moved to the countryside.
Word quickly spread that a woman was caring for unwanted children, and soon village leaders began dropping off other abandoned and abused kids, “60 Minutes” reported.
“My kids aren’t orphans. They’re not up for adoption. They never have been and never will be because they’re home now,” Howell said on the program.
The Rift Valley Children’s Village sits on 9 acres of land outside the town of Karatu and is made up of 22 buildings with more than 100 employees. It operates with a $1.3 million annual budget, part of which is used to fund local schools, a microfinance program and a health-care clinic, Oberc said.
Funding for the village draws heavily from donations with help from foundations.