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.
And now the latest news:
In communities like Pumula, where we work, poor girls are extremely vulnerable to the predations of older men offering them money, gifts, and the illusion of an escape from poverty and boredom. Providing them with a way to earn money – and the sense of self that brings – is critical – not an easy task in a country with 90 percent unemployment.
We began our vocational training program for girls by emphasizing non-traditional skills. Learning to build, to weld, to paint and plaster instilled a powerful new sense of self in the girls and sent an important message to men in the community. We continue that work and have ramped up the program recently when we begun a new building project on our site, with our older girls receiving small stipends for their on-the-job training planning and laying out foundations, digging and pouring them, laying block, welding tables and other furniture, installing windows, and painting.
That building will house a new sewing center that will be used both for training and for income-generation both for our girls and for our center, a new phase in our vocational training program. In Zimbabwe, all children are required to wear school uniforms, which are extremely costly. We are launching, then, a school uniform business, expecting that as our girls are trained, we will send them out on their own – with sewing machines and business skills - to earn money from this bottomless market.
To that end, we sent Lindiwe and Charity, recent school leavers who already knew sewed well, to an advanced sewing and patternmaking course. They, in turn, will train the younger girls even as they acquire the business skills necessary to the project. We expect the building to be completed by early June and the business to be launched immediately thereafter.
Furthermore, last year, we began a preschool for younger orphans that turned into an important if unanticipated vocational training program. After we launched, we sent Samantha, who, at the age of 17, designed the program, to a special training and licensing course, and Pauline, our assistant program director (and both have long been our beneficiaries) joined her three months ago. Only once our first group “graduated” and were declared the best prepared Grade One students did we sense the broader opportunity. Dozens of small preschools have cropped up around the city, and we realized that we could prepare young people to open such businesses on their own. Thus Samantha and Pauline are now training younger girls who work with them, and as they move on, those younger girls will take over.
All of our girls, from age 3 up, are also trained in basic computer skills, which puts them way ahead of their peers since students here are lucky to have access to computers for more than an hour of week. And we don’t neglect “proper” training for boys, which means that cooking, for example, is an equal opportunity responsibility, and all of our boys are expected to be respectful to females.
Finally, some of our vocational training has turned out to be individual, reflecting our assessment of the strengths and potential of individual girls. Thus, for example, we sensed early on that Pauline, our assistant program director, had natural leadership schools as well as great intelligence. We thus paid for her to complete her Advanced Level of secondary school, and we are doing the same with another girl at the moment. Several years ago, we realized that Sithabisiwe, who was raising her two younger brothers on her own, had a real gift for reading people and helped them understand their own feelings. We thus arranged for her to participate in a two-year course to be trained in counselling. The only participant under the age of 30, she was also the only student to graduate!
Given the current economic situation here, we’re still holding our collective breath to see whether our training will lead to economic self-sufficiency. But one thing is abundantly clear already: Our girls are clear about not wasting their lives: They are not getting pregnant, not selling themselves to the highest bitter, and are focused on moving forward with their lives on the basis of their own work.
Zimkids has just marked the fifth anniversary of the death of Brian, a 10-year-old Zimkid born with HIV but undiagnosed and untreated until we intervened with his family. By then, his immune system was seriously compromised. He had contracted tuberculosis. And while we managed to get him on antiretroviral drugs and a TB regimen, it was too late. The day we drove his body to be buried at his rural home, we decided to honor Brian with a vow of “NEVER AGAIN.” All of our children were tested for HIV, those who are positive are enrolled at the local pediatric AIDS clinic for drug treatment, and we can now mark five years without a funeral.
It isn’t easy, unfortunately. Several months ago, Cynthia, who is 16 years old, fell ill. When we took her to the clinic, doctors realized that her antiretroviral treatment had stopped working and that she had tuberculosis. Happily, she was quickly put on a new drug regimen and beat back the TB. She is once again at school, thriving.
We’re still struggling with the health of Langilihle, also 16. Although the local pediatric AIDS center sees her regularly, the doctors there missed the fact that her antiretroviral regimen was no longer working. We struggled to get her help, waiting in long queues to little avail. We discovered that the only way to avoid waiting hours for attention at the emergency room was to arrange an ambulance to take her to the hospital. –Although we avoided the wait, the ambulance drivers who transported her were drunk, dropped her on the way from her house to the ambulance and stopped en route to the hospital for bananas! IV drips increased her strength, and her drug regimen was changed. Still, every day, Langilihle’s family has to carry her a mile each day to the local clinic for her TB drugs. We’re optimistic, but she’s not yet out of the woods.
Even as we battle to keep everyone healthy, we’re keeping our focus on building the young people in other ways. As I hope you’ve seen from the photographs we’re posting on our Facebook page (search zimkids orphan trust), our pre-school program is thriving almost beyond our wildest dreams. Our program was designed and is run by Samantha Jumira, 18, who has been with Zimkids since she was 10 years old. The local kindergarten teachers were so impressed with the training of the children who “graduated” last year that we had lines of people at our gate looking for places for their kids.
We’ve begun the process of certification for a licensed crèche, which means we can charge fees to non-orphans to cover the expenses of our orphans and make the crèche entirely self-supporting. At present we do not charge. We’d already sent Samantha for professional training, and she’s now about to receive her license. Pauline and Sithabisiwe, who’ve been working with Samantha, have started the same training. Our ability to serve the children well is bolstered by the counseling training we arranged for Sithabisiwe, who is about to finish a year-long course taught by European psychologists, the youngest person ever to do so. In fact, all 18 of her classmates, all older than her by a decade or more, quit the course. We’re hoping to open our doors to fee-paying non-orphans in January.
We’re getting ready to launch yet another training/income-generating project, a school uniform business. All Zimbabwean children are required to wear uniforms to school, and they’re an enormous financial burden on families. So we’ve sent two of our girls, Lindiwe and Charity, who are competent seamstresses to an advanced tailoring course so that we can produce uniforms below the cost charged in town – and train the younger girls in skills that can sustain them. Our hope is that as each group of girls become competent, we can send them off to open their own small businesses – perhaps with sewing machines because of the generosity of our amazing Texan grandmother Dee!
No, we haven’t neglected the vocational training programs we began with the construction of our Center. Colin and Foster, two of the first trainees, are now teaching the younger boys and girls to lay brick, repair equipment and weld. (In fact, one of our sewing trainees, Lindiwe, has just finished welding a new railing at our site!) They will take the lead in the construction of our new sewing building.
So, even as we struggle with regular medical nightmares and with an economy that has now waned beyond collapse, we’re still bringing joy, education and serious futures to a wonderful group of orphans – because of your help and support.
Look forward to our next report, which should include this year’s high school and primary school examination results. Last year, our Zimkids beat the national pass rate by 300 percent – and we’re keeping our fingers crossed for 400 percent this time round!
Zimkids has been thriving and growing – but before providing you the latest details, can we ask a favor? On Dec. 3 beginning at noon east coast time until funds run out Microsoft will match your donation to Zimkids 100 percent! A Microsoft logo will appear on our project page (below click on URL) if matching funds are available. BUT the closer to twelve the better, and only at THIS site: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/vocational-training-for-200-zimbabwean-orphans/
Thanks so much.
In these updates, we thought that we should tell you a bit about the challenges we face, and we’ve dealt with a particularly difficult one over recent months. In July, one of our caregivers, 76 year-old Linah , fell ill. Linah cared for eight orphans, her grandchildren, between the ages of 1 and 16, and managed to keep them in school by cleaning for neighbors and school authorities. We worried, then, not just about her but also about all those children. So Tinashe spent days ferrying her back and forth to the hospital and breaking through the bureaucracy there to make sure she didn’t languish. Despite our best efforts, however, Linah died in mid-September. In Zimbabwe, proper funerals and burials are important, and Phillip and Tinashe made sure that Linah’s did her justice. They drove the Zimkids car carrying her coffin from the funeral parlor to Linah’s home, and spent the night with the children and neighbors to pay their final respects, leading the group in an all-night round of traditional African drumming and dancing. The next day, they drove the family to the cemetery and dug the grave in which Linah was buried. Ever since, we’ve been working 14 year old Roseline who now heads the family to make sure that her brother, sister and cousins ages 8 to 1 are cared for, fed and remain in school.
That’s one part of what Zimkids is about.
The other part, of course, is about the positive changes we are making in the lives of the children we serve, and we’re seeing it most vividly these days with our newest Zimkids, the 50 three-to-seven olds in the pre-school program we began last year. They include Nokuthula, age 4, whose parents both died of AIDS. She lives with her grandmother and seven other family members in three rooms. Since the grandmother is frequently ill and has no source of income, Nokuthula depends on the preschool feeding program for regular nutrition. Or Wayne, whose father died and whose mother abandoned him on the doorstep of an aunt when he was three months old. Mentally ill, the aunt can barely feed herself, not to mention Wayne. Or Lotrica, 6, born HIV positive. She lives with an aunt none too happy to have been left with the burden of a sick child after her parents died.
We just had our first “graduation” of our pre-school kids, complete with graduation robes (required by government) and the children are thriving: eating at the Centre daily, mastering computer games, and learning to read and write.
The vocational training programs for our girls is moving along well, and our oldest children, who are awaiting the results of their high school exams, are working hard to master new skills. We’re hoping to find the money for some added space in order to begin a sewing program which will also generate income for us and for the young people we train through the sale of school uniform skirts made by our kids and priced affordably.
Finally, Tinashe, our director, just spent two months in the U.S., his first trip to America, and we had an amazing few weeks traveling across America thanks to our accumulated frequet flyer miles and the generous hosts around the country to thank many of you for your support, making new friends, and establishing relationships with new schools. The latter is important not just or fundraising but because the Skype conferences between our Zimbabwean children and their American counterparts are so important to awareness and understanding on both sides.
We end yet another year, then, with our hearts full of gratitude to our supporters and our amazing kids.
Hello friends! We’ve been working hard at Zimkids thanks to your continuing support. Here’s the latest news!
The US Embassy in Harare has issued a grant to Tinashe Basa, our 25-year-old Director to visit the US. We are looking forward to welcoming him in the States with a full schedule of events. He will not only visit many of our supporters in schools, churches and synagogues, but he will attend TEDX events and be our leader at AID WALK DC, our reminder to all that AIDS is a global pandemic.
Samantha Jumira, 18, with Zimkids since she was 11, is taking a somewhat different path. Before we even began our pre-school program - for 50 children between 3-6 years old – she’d already written lesson plans for them! Now she’s in charge, doing a terrific job revising lesson plans, teaching the alphabet and a bit of math, introducing our youngest kids to the world of computers, arts, games and sports. She began training in early childhood education in August for two weeks every three months.
Meanwhile, we’re ramping up to start a sewing project is to make and sell girls’ school uniforms, both for our own income and to train young people in what is potentially a quite lucrative business since all children wear uniforms. Dee Duhe of Dallas got us sewing machines, and many have already been shipped, along with electrical transformers, thread and supplies, thanks to our friends at US Africa Fellowship. Lindiwe Mabhena, one of our Seniors, who began with Zimkids when she was 10 years old, will be in charge since she’s a wonderful seamstress. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have enough space for a sewing room, so we’re waiting to hear back on a grant application for a used shipping container we can convert and initial materials.
It has been one year since we opened the Center that was built by our Senior beneficiaries, and I thought you should hear a bit about how those seniors are doing to get a sense of the trajectory we’re forging. So, consider Collen Makurumidze, now 20 years old, who has been with Zimkids since he was 13. Collen mixed cement, laid brick and block, assembled roofing infrastructures, installed all our electric wiring and, along with Foster, installed our solar panels. After we opened and fine-tuned operations, we sent Collen to a formal course in electrical wiring. He could probably have taught it himself, but the course provided the certification to work in the field. In the meantime, a local company has taught him and Foster to install solar hot water heaters, with the goal of starting their own business. I recently spoke with Collen, who expressed interest in taking an advanced course in electric wiring. When I asked him about the cost, he said he’d pay for it himself so ZImkids could use that money to put someone else through the course that could give him or her a real start.
It was a very proud moment for me to watch Collen take responsibility for himself and wants to lift others into a trade. He will need to go on attachment for a year to be fully certified, so we are working with the national electricity supplier to get him placed. Foster had finished his boiler-making course and we are waiting to hear about an internship with a local engineering firm.
As Collen and Foster move on into their own businesses, we are moving others up behind them and into similar courses and, we hope, out into their own businesses. And we are currently paying school fees for four students to do their Advanced level high school work.
Our council of Elders, our 15-18 year old beneficiaries, are taking the lead in running our activities, as always. Marvelous and Susan are overseeing the girls’ welding program. And Shaun and Anele are putting the boys through the paces. Both groups are doing a great job and learning how to make artsy bookcases, shoe racks, sculptures, burglar bars, benches and chairs. Look at the photos! They’re moving fast!
We are, of course, facing challenges. Several of our teenage boys have started drinking, an extremely common problem in the neighborhood. Tinashe, our director and Philip, our program manager, are working with the boys’ caregivers to encourage them to intervene when older relatives entice our boys into alcohol and with the boys themselves to move them from drinking into more productive activities. Three seem to now be on the right track, working in welding rather than hanging out on the streets. But we suspect this will be an ongoing challenge.
Even more disturbing are problems facing kids who have been neglected, abandoned or kicked out of their relatives’ homes, some of whom are seriously ill with HIV-related illnesses. Many of our caregivers are very old and some simply can’t cope with their teenage grandchildren, especially ones who require a lot of care because they are HIV+. Recently, one gogo – grandmother -, who has a 30 year old severely handicapped son and a granddaughter who is HIV+ was at her wits end and wanted to throw the daughter out. Philip and Sithabisiwe, who is being trained as a counselor, intervened and made arrangements to ease her stress and things seemed to have settled down. Another, who takes care of nine orphaned children, became so ill last week that we had to rush her to hospital. Just recovering from cholera, she was so dehydrated that she needed litres of fluids.
As always, then, we moving from triumph to challenge. And, as always, we move forward thanks to your generosity.
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Chair, Board of Trustees