A 26-year-old British woman, Letty McMaster, was 18 years old when she decided to take a gap year to volunteer at an orphanage in Africa.
Letty, who is from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, ended up staying for three years to support the children she had met. The experience changed her life completely after meeting 14 Tanzanian children which she took in as her own this year.
After completing her A-levels in 2013, she flew to Tanzania with the plan of volunteering at an orphanage for only a month before returning home for university.
But, soon after starting her volunteer work, she realised that the children were being physically and mentally abused. She claimed that that the staff pocketed the cash that is donated by tourists for schooling, and that they only fed the kids once a day.
"I chose to fly to Tanzania after seeing figures that showed hundreds of thousands of children living on the streets. Voluntourism and white saviourism at this orphanage is why I've done all this. I saw the awfully damaging impact it was having on the children, and how it was fueling an ongoing cycle of abuse," she explained.
"Many orphanages are like this: it's all just a money-making scheme and an exploitation of the children. The kids still don't understand it, and I'm sure the Westerners had no idea. They thought they were helping, but were actually causing so much damage. I couldn't leave them in that situation, so my new goal was to get them a family home."
At the time when the orphanage shut down, she took in nine youngsters from the orphanage, as well as five more children she met on the streets. Seven years later, she became legal guardian of them all.
"These children are my whole life, I raise them all on my own and they keep me going through the long hours of juggling everything. I'd always had in mind that I wanted to help street children, so my family and friends weren't surprised, but I never expected to end up doing all this. I am the parental figure in the house – some of the little boys who never had a parent view me as their mum, but most see me more as a big sister as I'm not that much older than some of them.
"I'm just like any mum raising teenagers; I made a commitment to them and I just feel so blessed to have two families!" the mother-of-14 said.
After the orphanage was closed by the council in 2016, she fought for the right to open her own home, in Iringa, to house nine of the homeless children.
"Obviously it takes time to settle into the house from street life and traumatic experiences, and it can take a while to get them into family life, routine, and leaving street behaviour behind."
Letty further elaborated on the successes of her children and the hard work they have put in to reach their goals. "Seeing their drive, determination and success is what makes all the balancing that I have to do worth it."
Currently, Letty lives in Iringa with the children nine months of the year, and returns to the UK for the rest of the year to fundraise through sponsored events and an annual charity ball. Not only has she been focused on providing a loving home for the children, she often works long 12-hour days, but managed to graduate with a degree in Development Studies from the University of SOAS, London.
Letty continued that, "I can't even give you a normal day, it changes every single day. It's basically a 12-hour day, if not longer, waking up early but not going to sleep until very late. When everyone comes home from school, they've all got their own stories to share, and homework, football training and music commitments. It's a family home all the way.
"They see me as a big sister. I've raised them, so they feel I'm the parent, and then the two workers I have are like their aunties. I'd love to have my own children in the future but, obviously, my life is so hectic that dating isn't something that I have time to think about right now!"