BUILDING THE FUTURES OF 100 ZIMBABWEAN GIRLS

 
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Samantha leads our girls club meeting
Samantha leads our girls club meeting

It’s easy for charities to hide difficulties they face from their donors. After all we want to put the best face forward.  But you deserve candor if you’re to have continued confidence in us. So, here goes:

 

Many of our first groups of female vocational trainees were stellar: They were eager to learn, worked incredibly hard, and have proven themselves again and again. They engaged in welding, construction, sewing, nurse’s aide training, early childhood training and computer skills. Since then, we’ve struggled: Our present cohort of girls shy away from construction or other heavy work and take much less initiative than our first class of girls finishing school. And, most of all, their female guardians either discourage them from entering training programs, or undermine their ability to participate since they want them to stay home, cooking, cleaning and taking care of the younger kids in the household.  Boys are allowed unambiguous freedom; girls are tethered to the demands of often-elderly caregivers.

 

In an effort to deal with this problem, we began working with the caregivers to help them understand that, while they might experience a short-term loss of the girls’ labor at home, they had to think of the long-term gain of having income flowing into the household. It didn’t work. They don’t mind that their older girls aren’t busy enough and that six girls out of this cohort have already gotten pregnant. In fact, it became clear that the caregivers wanted to be paid to allow the girls to participate in vocational training.

 

So we’ve gone back to the drawing board, relying on the advice of Samantha, Zimkid since age 10, now our pre-school certified teacher at age 19, and Sithabisiwe, Zimkids since age 12 now our certified councilor, two of the first trainees. They both received a great deal of negativity from their female elders when they trained with us, but they are, by nature, more assertive than most local girls. Their advice, then, was to form a club for girls over the age of 13 to deal with the problem from the ground up, so to speak, by creating a new culture for them. They’re trying to break down the barriers against girls’ talking to each other about their problems (and there’s a strong cultural belief that other girls are your enemies, who will gossip about you), against cooperating rather than competing, and against initiative.

 

The first task is to forge them into a solid group – called Young Girls of Tomorrow. The initiative is in its early days, but we’re hopeful that this might be a more solid strategy that will help the girls move forward. They face such immense cultural obstacles, and we’re just beginning to play with more ideas for overcoming them.

 

Of course, we continue our training programs even as we work on cultural and personal matters.

 

So, this time, can we also ask for suggestions?  You make it possible for us to help our girls, so please don’t be shy!  Write Dennis Gaboury, Founder at dennis@zimkids.com or Tinashe Basa, Director, at tinashe@zimkids.com.   Thank you for your years of support.

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Lynn learns to saw the countertop underlayment
Lynn learns to saw the countertop underlayment

A recent story in a Zimbabwean newspaper declared that the national formal economy is collapsing. In response, the country’s leading economist disagreed, arguing that it could be more aptly described as just in intensive care. Government owes $10 billion, long overdue, to foreign lenders. Most projections suggest that the economy will grow 1.2 percent this year, hardly enough to create jobs for the 80+ percent of the adult population already unemployed, not to mention the 300,000 school leavers who look for a foot in the economy annually. With businesses closing and government unable to hire anyone since it can no longer pay its salary bill, even university graduates have resorted to selling used clothes at the markets.

 

The situation is particularly precarious for our under-educated girls who have little hope. They become the easy prey of older men who offer them money or gifts – only to wind up pregnant and abandoned.

 

Providing our girls with meaningful skills – personal and vocational – to avoid this trap is one of our most constant struggles. Increasingly, we are turning to skills usually considered male in Zimbabwe since they provide the greatest flexibility for small business. Teenage girls are perfectly comfortable serving their male relatives, as expected by their elders. The pressure to conform is enormous. So it takes some doing to stimulate their interest, but we’re getting there. Teenage rebellion is not at all the cultural norm.

 

One group of our girls just finished all the elements (poles and hoops) of a basketball court that we just installed at the rural school the children in our outreach program attend. Marvelous, a school leaver, ASKED to be sent to a course in electrical wiring, and she’s already halfway through. And when we revamped our kitchen, Lynn requested instruction in tiling, mortoring and the sawing the plywood underlayment of our countertops.

 

The brightest light on the horizon is the negotiations we’re in with a local motorcycle manufacturing start-up company that sought us out as partners because of our vocational training program in welding and a funder interested in businesses involved in such partnerships. If all goes well, our girls will weld and build component parts for supply to the plant and, over time, be hired at the plant itself. FINGERS CROSSED!!!

 

And we’re working hard to ensure that our littlest boys and girls are nudged beyond the gender roles to which they are trained and home and in the community. Even at tender ages, too many of the boys think that their sisters need to wash their dishes. But not at Zimkids! In between lunch and nap time they line up for computer training beginning at age 3!

 

We just wanted to end with a shout out to the wonderful ZSA ZSA Team from the Rotary Club in Knoxville, which recently visited the Center. In collaboration with the Books for Africa Foundation, they’d sent us dozens of boxes of books, and they arrived just in time to see our staff catalogue and shelve that contribution. Read about their visit at http://www.zsazsagroup.com/2015/02/ 

Our girls perfect their welding skills
Our girls perfect their welding skills
Preschoolers learn to take care of dirty dishes
Preschoolers learn to take care of dirty dishes
Nicole is excited to start her computer class.
Nicole is excited to start her computer class.
Samantha & others tour motorcycle factory
Samantha & others tour motorcycle factory

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Thamani and Hloniphile in their nurse aide uniform
Thamani and Hloniphile in their nurse aide uniform

Our older girls are soaring – and we are unabashedly proud of their achievements. Thamani and Hloniphile have just finished a course that led to their certification as nurses’ aides – and they will begin working at the central hospital in January. They are certainly the only nurse aides who can also weld, lay brick and build shelves!

Sithabisiwe finished her training and is now a certified counselor. She was the youngest in her class - and the only one in her class to have completed the year long course. Samantha, who runs our preschool, also defied age barriers, receiving her certification as an early childhood educator at age 19. Pauline, who finished her Advanced Level high school diploma thanks to the financial support of Zimkids, also completed her early childhood course.  

Our girls continue learning to weld, lay brick and block, plaster and paint as part of our construction skills training, and we plan to keep our cohort of recent high school graduates busy with hands-on training as we break ground for the preschool classroom we are about to build.

Not all of our plans go entirely smoothly, and the details demonstrate some of the challenges we face. Several years ago, we conceived the idea of a sewing center that would both train some of our older young people and provide income to Zimkids through the construction and sale of school uniforms. Unfortunately, the two girls chosen to lead the effort, who we sent for courses in sewing, cutting and patternmaking, proved too passive to launch the project, and one of their caregivers tried to insert herself into the activity. We’re currently looking for the right girls to replace them, but we realized how much more effort we need to put into helping these young people to be proactive and to think outside of the box.

I should end with a special New Year Shout-out to all of our amazing donors. We have now received financial assistance from more than 2,000 of you, and without that help, we could never have gotten that far. Consider that the group of we think of as our Texas gogos (grandmothers) made over 200 quilts and bought new underwear for our kids, as well as furnishing the sewing center with sewing and overlock machines, along with thread, scissors, fabric and patterns. A group of young people in Plano, Texas made 50 fleece blankets for our preschoolers. The Buckner Foundation gave Zimkids shoes for all our kids. And our wonderfully generous friends from the P&G alumni network have, time and again, provided us with the funds necessary to build the structures we need for our vocational projects.

We end 2014 optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction because every day we see our children growing stronger, in body and in spirit. We at Zimkids wish you the happiest of new years with bottomless gratitude for making ours so bright.

Sithabisiwe receives her diploma in counseling
Sithabisiwe receives her diploma in counseling
Washie, Samantha and Sithabisiwe with graduates
Washie, Samantha and Sithabisiwe with graduates
Our girls made shoe racks for a client
Our girls made shoe racks for a client
The Sewing Center and its builders
The Sewing Center and its builders
Blankets from our Texas Gogos!
Blankets from our Texas Gogos!

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Checking temps for our monthly health screening
Checking temps for our monthly health screening

     These have been exhausting days at Zimkids as we juggle the growing number of projects in which our girls are involved. Providing them with skills to ensure their futures, as well as the future of Zimkids, seems even more pressing as recent HIV prevalence statistics for Bulawayo grow increasingly grim. The city’s prevalence rate of almost 22 percent is now 50 percent above the national average. Across the country, 1.2 million adults are living with HIV, a constant reminder of how many new orphans we will need to serve.

      The new school year begins in January, and December is the month when parents began their search for the required school uniforms for their children. Our new sewing center, then, is buzzing with activity as the girls cut and sew to stockpile for the coming demand. Uniforms are expensive, often hard to find, and available only in town, a $2 trip. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that a lower price and easy availability will give us plenty of orders. Our girls are certainly ready! And we should note that even as they prepare for the uniform season, the girls are also teaching all the children how to sew in the hope that they will at least be able to care for their own meager stocks of clothing.

      The ZimGirls Welders are hard at work, and our preschool is filling the youngest children’s days with sports, computer games, the alphabet and multiplication – and their bellies with solid nutrition. Our plan to open the program to paying students – which continuing to offer our programs to orphans free-of-charge – is moving along. Doing so requires us to construct a new building – a wonderful opportunity for our construction trainees – since the specifications for the physical premises of a licensed preschool are quite stringent. We’re scrambling to raise the funds for materials but are confident that our generous donors will help us so that the preschool will become self-supporting.

      Our most recent initiative involves more careful monitoring of the health of our young people – and more focused health education as well. Thanks to a donation targeted to health care, two of our Senior girls aare now finishing a nurses’ aide course. They have conducted baseline health screenings of all 200 children and are monitoring them monthly, using a spreadsheet designed by one of our girls who caught the computer “bug.”

      As we watch young people who have been with us for 5-6 years running programs, receiving professional certifications, and growing into responsible and creative leaders, we’re confident that we’re on the right track. The girls are not only gaining essential skills, but they are mentoring one another, keeping each other healthy and, as much as possible, out of harm’s way.

     Thank you for helping them move forward into bright futures! And please like us on Facebook at /zimkids!  Note on our facebok page /Zimkids that we are now a part of AmazonSmile.  If you click on the AmazonSmile logo on the left side of our facebook page and whenever you shop at Amazon.smile.com (Same as Amazon) Zimkids will receive a donation from Amazon. 

Thamani is entering health stats in our computer
Thamani is entering health stats in our computer
Our ZimGirls welding team at work!
Our ZimGirls welding team at work!
Samantha and Pauline with a day
Samantha and Pauline with a day's harvest

Links:

Charity working on a pillow cover for a client
Charity working on a pillow cover for a client

THank you for all you have done to make Zimkids a loving, nurturing home for our orphans! For the latest ongoing news check out Zimkids facebook page, search ZImkids Orphan Trust.

Two weeks ago, Lindiwe Mabhena and Charity Museba, who run Zimkids’ new sewing center, learned their first serious business lesson, the hard way: Despite their training in costing, the girls were so anxious to please their first customer that they undercharged for a set of six quilted pillows. The result: $8 profit for five days of labor. NEVER AGAIN, they declared, as they began finding their feet in the new world of financial realities.

 

The sewing center is teaching our girls dozens of new lessons – and not just about money. As they joined the boys in building the new facility, they mastered the basics of mixing mortar and laying brick. Now they’ve gone on to learn about pattern making and cutting cloth, about maintaining sewing machines, marketing, costing, and planning, skills that will help them build independent futures.

 

This new initiative was born out of our realization that since no child is permitted to attend school without a uniform, there’s a near-limitless market for such items, which are absurdly expensive in town. Opening a uniform business, then, allowed us to meet two goals: moving us along our path to self-sustainability and providing young people with skills they can eventually use to open their own enterprises.

 

The demand for uniforms begins in earnest in December, just before the new school year begins in January. So Lindiwe and Charity have been busy training younger girls and boys in sewing and cutting to stockpile for the new year – even as they solicit and accept orders for pillows, aprons, bed covers, and non-school clothes.

They began with three sewing machines and an overlock– and another nine have just arrived in a shipment from the States, so they’re ready to ramp up production. We have to thank our Texas Grandmother, Dee Duhe from Texas who collects and sends us all of our sewing machines. Also thanks to the Shea Family Foundation and the Independent Pilots Association for grants that funded the building of the center.

 

Meanwhile, Hlonaphile Ndlovu, Thamani Nyathi and Engeline Hlazo are working on the other side of our complex, the dirty side. Trained in welding last year, they’ve just received their first order – for a set of artsy shoe racks – and are busy designing something “out of the ordinary,” what we hope will become Zimkids’ hallmark.

 

Several other girls are training at our pre-school, which will soon open its doors to paying parents while continuing to charge nothing to orphans. When we began our pre-school program, we never expected to turn it into a training and income-generating project; we were just trying to provide an educational and social opportunity for children ages 3-6. But the Grade 1 teachers in the area were so enthusiastic about our little ones – who could read and write a bit, speak some English and work on computers – that local parents lined up at our gate. We had another terrific opportunity to meet our dual goals, so we jumped at the chance and sent Samantha Jumira and Pauline Mhendo to special classes that would certify them to run a licensed pre-school.

 

Inside our gates, then, things are flowing beautifully, with our older girls leading and training the younger ones. Outside…that’s another matter. We lost Cynthia Britz on July 5th to her lifelong battle with illness. She had just finished TB treatment. Weak and exhausted she simply gave up. One of our HIV-positive girls are not doing well, fighting meningitis at the moment. And too many of the extended families with whom they live – not to mention the men in the neighborhood - continue to treat them abusively.

 

Thanks to your generosity, they all have access to our wonderful private doctor, who has managed to keep the majority of Zimkids relatively healthy. Our staff continues to work with families to catch problems that we can help with. And we’ve recently received an offer from a local ta kwon do expert to work with our girls so that they will become able to defend themselves.

 

Most importantly, we’re providing them with the ability to build independent futures, which has become all the more critical since the economy, after stabilizing a bit after dollarization, has begun sliding back in the wrong direction.

So far this year, Zimbabwe’s Registrar of Companies has struck more than 176 companies off the register and they expect to deregister another 634 companies over the coming months. More than 70 percent of the country’s exporting companies have shut down. Every day, we hear about another business that has filed for bankruptcy, another shop that simply can’t make it. But our girls – with practical skills, business training, experience, and confidence – are defying the odds. 

Lindiwe with her apron and hat made for a client
Lindiwe with her apron and hat made for a client
Samantha and Sithabisiwe pre-school storytelling
Samantha and Sithabisiwe pre-school storytelling
Our girl crew putting together the latest order
Our girl crew putting together the latest order
Our girls with the finished shoe rack
Our girls with the finished shoe rack
Cynthia lost her long battle with illness July 5.
Cynthia lost her long battle with illness July 5.

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Project Leader

Dennis Gaboury

Chair, Board of Trustees
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Where is this project located?

Map of BUILDING THE FUTURES OF 100 ZIMBABWEAN GIRLS