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A family that keeps giving

25 March 2024, Impact of Our Work

How a ‘yes’ led to a life of service 

In the 1950s in England newly married couple Robin and Elizabeth Smith received an invitation to help with the health care needs in East Africa. As a doctor, Robin was a prime candidate for this role in an Anglican mission and was asked: “We need doctors. Will you come?” 

His wife Elizabeth, a talented artist, saw it as the perfect opportunity to help others. The couple’s ‘yes’ eventually led them to a mission station in a country then known as Tanganyika, which later came to be known as Tanzania. 

Eldest daughter Clare, now 65, affirms that it was a personal interest to make a difference that led their parents to work in Africa and to later on work for Save the Children Fund, as Save the Children was then known. 

Reaching remote communities with the Save the Children Land Rover

On their first trip, Robin dedicated relentless work to provide health care to the community. 

He got sent out to Mvumi to work in a little mission hospital there. And he just threw himself into that so completely that he was never really extricated from it.


After four years of dedicated service in the mission the couple went back to England, with three small children in tow. But Tanzania had already left a mark on the young family. It was not long before they once again agreed to go back – this time to work for Save the Children Fund. By then they already had four children – Clare, Katherine, Andrew and Hillary.
Back in Tanzania, Robin operated a mobile clinic from the back of a Land Rover, driving out to remote communities to provide health care to those with no access to hospitals. Together with two Tanzanian men, Alfred and Stanley, he would set out on a Monday, following cattle tracks, and return home not till late Friday. Out in the villages, they would see up to 100 children a day, patients who wouldn’t otherwise have access to adequate health care.

Daughter Katherine, now 64, shares, “Dad often said that in a way, the work he did was like the carrots that got people to come who wanted the medical care - the miracle antibiotics and the eye ointments ... But then they would stay to listen to what Alfred and Stanley taught them about nutrition and hygiene.”

Elizabeth and the kids sometimes came along. Elizabeth engaged with the local women whom she taught how to make batik, sew or speak English. A talented artist, she cared for her four children without a nanny, while painting amidst the beautiful landscape and a rich culture that would come to deeply influence their lives. 

Dad would be under the tree running a clinic while under another tree is mum painting a landscape. And I think that really modelled for us that art matters, even in the face of extraordinary human need.


The family’s memories of that special time were captured in photographs.

A testament to a life of giving to others

After working for Save the Children Fund, the next step for the Smith family was to establish a home close to nature, like in Tanzania. It was not long before they chose to relocate to Tasmania. But the family fondly kept their emotional connection with Tanzania, whose beauty and wide, open spaces have instilled a strong love and advocacy for the environment. 

In 2017 Robin and Elizabeth were each fittingly awarded an Order of Australia Honours - a testament to a life of service and giving to others.

The whole family have remained dedicated supporters of Save the Children, fueled by their time in Africa and their personal experience of helping others. “Looking at Dad’s records from when he was setting up the nutritional unit [in Tanzania], a place where a mother and a malnourished baby could come, we really understood that you could just make such a difference in people's lives,”  says Clare.

Find out how you can support children through Save the Children’s life-changing work.

Photos: Supplied by supporter.

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