Our ZimGirls are moving forward - with a vengeance!
Three of them just passed their O-level examinations, the national exams given to the end of the first part of high school. It was quite a feat since they spent many of their school years with few or no teachers. The national pass rate was only 18.4 percent, but our kids brought in an amazing 70 percent. We are paying for two of the girls to continue on to their Advanced levels, only the second time any Zimkid has achieved well enough to do so. The first time was the triumph of Pauline Mhendo, who just finished her Advanced levels. She passed, although less strongly than we'd hoped, and we're waiting to hear whether she'll be accepted to a nursing program at the local hospital.
We were particularly saddened that Samantha Jumira did not pass, although hardly surprised. Her mother routinely pulled her out of school and sent her to their rural area to take care of her younger siblings. To pass, you need passing scores on five examinations, and despite her numerous, months-long absences from school, Samantha passed four. One of our volunteers is now tutoring her in math, and we're hoping that she'll pass when she re-sits that exam in June. In the meantime, we've hired her to run our new program for younger children, ages 3-7, and she's doing an amazing job, complete with lesson plans, activity sheets and a small feeding scheme. If she succeeds when she retakes her math exam, we're hoping to find an Early Childhood Education program where she can study.
Meanwhile, Sithabisiwe, who has been with us since she was 12 and was one of the Seniors who built our Center, has been selected for a year-long counseling course sponsored by a Greek-run NGO. This was quite a feat as the program is limited to people over the age of 25 with five O-level passes, and Sithabisiwe is only 20 and had just one pass. But an exception was made after the program director saw our Center and met with Sithabisiwe. So she's on her way to a certificate in counseling!
We've just begun a new welding class for girls, and carpentry will not be far behind. We haven't been able to move toward the creation of Zimkids Welding yet since two of our best trainees are currently studying their A-levels and we still don't have enough money for a truck. But it will come before the end of the year, we hope.
At the same time, we're planning two new income-producing projects for our girls. First, we're hoping to establish a school uniform business for several of them, using donated sewing machines that will arrive next month. Here, many girls study fashion in high school, and a number are excellent seamstresses. Since all children are required to wear uniforms to school - and they are expensive to buy in town, the only place they are available - we think such a business could provide a solid livelihood. So once the machines arrive, we're hoping to get started.
Several months ago, we began considering how we might help our girls deal with the high cost of sanitary napkins, which forces most Zimbabwean women to use rags instead. Women back home offered to raise the money for reusable sponges, but our doctor here doesn't like them since they demand a lot of cleaning to avoid infection. We looked around for alternatives and discovered a fascinating inexpensive, low-tech sanitary napkin factory invented in India. Three machines and four workers produce 1400 pads a day - for a penny each! In India, the inventor supplies the raw materials - wood pulp - to the women's cooperatives using the machines, and that isn't feasible for us. So we're trying to locate sources for the pulp to see whether we can match those costs. If we can, we're hoping to open our own small factory. We'll corner the market, give our young people experience marketing, costing, and producing sanitary pads - and generate some income. We're very excited about the possibility, so we're holding our collective breath while endeavor to source materials.
We'd hoped to bring women from Kenya for self-defense workshops with our girls. The idea generated so much excitement around town that four other groups asked if they could be involved. Unfortunately, with elections coming in a few months, the atmosphere is too rife with suspicion for anything of this sort. But we're hoping that by the northern hemisphere Fall things will have calmed down enough that we can help our girls learn to defend themselves.
Finally, we'd like to thank you for your amazing support for these projects.
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Chair, Board of Trustees