'Papaa' has earned every ounce of his nickname for a 'swagga' enhanced via a love of music (keyboard and guitar) developed through his Tanzanian church.
But even Reward 'Papaa' Minja was conceding Tumaini Children's Foundation fashion runway domination to his elder sister Mary, well schooled as she is in the art of 'Tingisha.'
Tumaini founder and Executive Director Cherie Szucs translated the term from the Minjas' native Swahili as 'shake your taco (booty)' and having seen Mary's impromptu African dance lesson during a fundraising golf tournament last month, Szucs was clearly still in awe.
"She can shake her taco."
Beyond acting as ambassadors of success for Tumaini (hope, in Swahili), Reward and Mary were helping out where they could, whether that be on the dance floor or throwing it down on the runway as first-time models at the 2nd Annual Tumaini fundraiser in Tillsonburg, Thursday (October 24) at Tillsonburg's Carriage House.
"This is how we support ourselves, our children are taken care of with sponsorship and fundraising events like this," said Szucs.
Recently returned from the full beauty treatment at Anastatica's, Mary was preparing to turn it loose on the catwalk, "even shoulders," she smiled. And while Reward was promising a surprise or two, Tingisha was not going to be part of the mix for either he or fellow male model and Tumaini gardener Lohai Moshi.
"No taco," said Reward. "Taco is only for women, not us."
The mood was light prior to a fundraiser featuring food, fashion and fun, coordinated in Tillsonburg by Szucs' cousin Dianne DeLoose, but the business of the evening was highly serious. In an African nation where millions of children live in abject poverty and less than 4% complete secondary school, 23-year-old Reward and 25-year-old Mary are the first university graduates to be supported by the four-year-old foundation.
Reward considered himself fortunate to have a job in a flower factory that paid 65 cents per day, enough for subsistence existence for he, Mary and younger brothers Nelson and Kelvin, orphaned with the passing of their father in 2004 and mother in 2007. Clearly, life as they say, was no bed of roses.
"It was a very hard time for us," said Mary, for whom life has changed in many ways since receiving Tumaini support. "We have food, we have health care, we have clothes and many other needs a human needs.
"Now we are very happy to have that, and my two younger brothers are still studying."
Beyond that, the elder siblings have a university education - Reward a degree in IT with designs on operation his own business.
"I see now my future," said Reward. "Before Tumaini, I didn't know what is tomorrow."
Mary, fully understanding the importance of education, is seeking a masters in that subject with the ultimate goal of becoming a principal or school administrator.
"Which is desperately needed in Tanzania, desperately needed," said Szucs.
"That is one of the big things, education," Mary added. "This is where our future will be good. We can widen our knowledge and know where we are going and what we are going to do."
Tumaini is currently at full 52-student capacity, a crew ranging in age from four to 25. Its goal is to house, shelter and educate Tanzanian orphans in need, whether their ultimate destination be a trade, independent small business or a university degree. Its non-denominational policy is to stay with students, rather than having an age ceiling, which can in effect be a limiting factor.
"We like to take our children as far as we can go," said Szucs.
Ninety-six cents of every dollar donated to or fundraised by Tumaini, goes directly to children's care, a statistic achieved due to the fact Szucs pays for items up to and including her own airfare. "I don't take a salary, no non-Tanzanian is paid."
Those seeking more information on the foundation or sponsorship options are invited to visit its website www.tuchifo.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 519-426-6064.
There could be 100,000 Tumainis in Tanzania and it would still not be enough, said Szucs. But while the area-based organization isn't changing the life of the entire country, it definitely has changed the lives of those associated with it.
"It helps kids go to school," said Moshi.
"Very appreciated," Reward added in conclusion. "This helps the kids of Tanzania. We appreciate people coming, especially for days like today."