Thanks to scores of extremely generous donors, the Adrian Suskin Center for Zimkids is up and running. More photos and the latest news can be found on our facebook page search Zimkids Orphan Trust or our website www.zimkids.com. Let's start, then, with a tour:
The site is 2.5 acres, located right next to the local high school donated to us by the City of Bulawayo. Because security is a major problem all across the city, we walled in the entire plot – and kept the part facing the street from looking dreary with a series of murals.
Now, come inside:
The first building to your left is the lime green cottage that is home to Washington, who provides our security and will run our Library, and an office. Follow the brick path and you reach the heart of the complex. To the left, is our Light Blue Resource Center, where we will house our library, our games, and serve as the heart of our activities. Two small rooms are walled off, one to serve as a kitchen and the other as our clinic. The top of the Resource Center will hold our solar panels, which just arrived and are about to be installed. Around back, on a small patio, we built a massive table so that dozens of children can work, play and eat together.
Across from the Resource Center, you come to our amazing orange Tech Center, which will house the 15 computers we purchased to train our children and their caregivers in modern technology and, eventually, to provide Internet access to the surrounding community. One corner of the building holds a safe room where the computers will be kept at night and where our inverters and solar batteries will be kept safe as well. Our purple lavatories are to the left of the tech center.
Now, outside: First, take a look at our wonderful swing set, seesaw and merry-go-round, gifts from a local drilling company. Beyond, you reach the gazebo where the children can perform for themselves and their families. Next, you come to our sports fields, which are graded and ready for goal posts for soccer and a net for netball. Swinging around the property, you reach our greenhouse and garden, which use drip irrigation. The vegetables will serve the needs of our children and their caregivers, with the surplus for sale. Finally, you come to the toilet block, with separate facilities for boys and girls.
As most of you know, we didn't just build a Center, we also trained a group of young people who joined Zimkids when they were still small. Now out of school, they dug and poured the foundations, laid the block, plastered, painted, installed windows, welded shields and railings, installed all the electric wiring and solar panels, landscaped and painted. This is their Center – built by Zimbabwean orphans, run by orphans FOR Zimbabwean orphans! Our Seniors, Foster, Sithabisiwe, Collen and Thandiwe received Certificates of Completion of our 18 month construction training program. They now move on to training in all areas of management to run the center.
We're not done, of course: We have plans to raise chickens both to feed our kids and to earn money. We're hoping to plant fruit trees for our own mini-orchard. We need more books for our library, a few more solar panels, and a bit more furniture – and we plan to use the extra money we raised to cover some of those costs.
But the bottom line is that WE HAVE A HOME – and we are immensely grateful to all of you for making it possible!
This Wednesday, June 13th, beginning at 12:01 am EST GlobalGiving is having a bonus day. Since we are a Global “Superstar” all of our donations up to $1000 will be matched 50% by Global until the funds run out. Also there is an extra award for the most donors and the most funds raised. So every $10 donation is a gift to Zimkids that we will use wisely and with gratitude. And with Global’s $5 bonus we can even do more. Thank you in advance for your support.
We are heading toward the finish line with the completion of the Center. Security is a big issue here in Zimbabwe especially with all that we plan on offering at the center so we are just now completing the cottage that will house our caretaker/security guard and office. He will also serve as our librarian. Yes we all will be wearing multiple hats!
We picked our first batch of tomatoes from our new greenhouse. Dee-licious!
Tinashe, our director, has begun designing and welding the tech center desks. He has become a master welder! Sithibisiwe is learning to cut and lay tile for the bathrooms. Foster is installing the gum poles and roofing on the cottage. Collen is completing his first set of steps and Thandiwe is painting. This week the plumber begins to install pipes, fittings and hardware while teaching the Seniors. Next week the solar panels arrive and will begin to be installed.
The kids are doing great. Our Elders are in training for all the tasks they will be handling once the center is open. Phillip, our program director is organizing workshops on leadership, first aid, children’s rights etc. Our Seniors will be tasked with supervising the Elders.
We’ve had one case of tuberculosis this month. It’s common for HIV+ kids here to get TB. He’s under treatment now and is doing well coping with the six month regimen as well as his anti-retrovirals.
And that’s the story for now. We are ever grateful for your kindness and generosity and we strive to put it to the best possible use. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
So much Zimkids news this month, both wonderful and tragic.
The good: Our amazing greenhouse – 50’x20’ - has been installed with a full drip irrigation system, thanks to the Ambassador’s Fund/PEPFAR grant from the U.S. Embassy here and Barnert Temple in New Jersey. Already, we have more than 500 tomato, pepper, cabbage, Chimulia plants growing, donated by the Israeli company that makes the drip irrigation and greenhouse system. The garden is flourishing. The open field next to the greenhouse has also been fitted with drip irrigation, waiting for our well to be hooked up. So more food is in the offing all being managed and cultivated by our kids.
Our Tech Center is virtually finished, and we’ve purchased 15 beautiful new laptops thanks to the generosity of the Proctor & Gamble Alumni Foundation and support on our behalf of Julie Tazzia, a member of our board of advisors who lives in Michigan. She and Shelley Kenigsberg of Sidney, Australia, gathered dozens of computer and non-computer games that the children are chomping at the bit to try out once we’re up and running.
Our solar array, which will power the entire complex so we can avoid connecting to the collapsing grid, have been ordered and should be installed next month – a gift from the Independent Pilots’ Association, thanks to the entreaties of Adrian Suskin, a member of our Board.
Drillwell Partnership, the local company that drilled our well, surprised us with a swing set and a see-saw that they build specially for us. And our soccer field has been graded, courtesy of Carly Bidner, a high school student in Kentucky who raised the money for the work.
Our kids lined up with bricks to help continue the construction of the path to our buildings that make Zimkids entirely handicapped accessible.
All of our Seniors have now mastered all aspects of building with cement as well as using the circular saw, drill, grinder, planer and welding equipment. Dennis trained Tinashe to weld and he has proved to be a master welder making all our burglar bars. Sithibisiwe in spite of her tiny hands managed to master the circular saw cutting gumpoles for our steeple from which the zimkids flag will fly.
It’s been a dizzying few months, as you can see, and the entire site has become a sort of local tourist attraction, with wedding parties gathering to have their photographs taken next to our lovingly painted walls and teachers using the imagery to show their students the development of Zimbabwe from bushmen cave paintings to the modern day computer era.
For the most part, our children are flourishing. Our Fairbanks, Alaska supporters, led by the inspiring Gloria Slagle, have sold a remarkable number of dolls, which has kept the kids and their guardians eating well. And the children are hard at work on a new set of dolls to provide them and their families with food and medical care over the coming year.
We’ve begun bolstering our educational programs and have great hopes for several of our elders who are about to write their O-level exams since they are being tutored by terrific volunteers from USAP (United States Achievers Program), all local students on their way to Harvard, Amherst and other top American universities. If they succeed in their exams, we will help them continue their educations by paying for their A-level studies, as we are currently doing with Pauline Mhendo, who is about to write her A-level examinations after two years at a local Mission school.
Finally, we have added a staff member to the Zimkids family, Philip Mudoyi, who we’ve known for 7 years and dreamed of adding him to the Zimkids family. He will serve as our program director, training our Elders to run programs for the younger kids and working with our caregivers. Philip, just 29-years-old, worked with a series of local children’s clubs and the highly-regarded Masiye Camp before leaving for similar work in South Africa several years ago. We lured him home with a large pay cut! If you befriend us on our new Facebook site, which is a work-in-progress, you’ll soon receive regular updates from him, as well as from Tinashe.
Our bad news is that the vulnerability of the children we work with has been driven home to us with particular vehemence in recent weeks. First, one of our 12-year-old girls who was born HIV+ was raped by her grandfather. He was arrested but let out on bail to return to his home. She’s since been removed to another family member.
Then two brothers were attacked in separate incidents. Mbuso and Nqabutho lost their mother last year and are cared for by Sithabisiwe, one of our seniors. First Mbuso, a 14 year old who looks about 11, was smacked on the ear for being late to school and can no longer hear out of his right ear since the blow demolished his ear drum. We took him to our Ear Specialist. Then, his older brother, Nqabutho, was stabbed in the back by some local bullies while walking to church. He spent three hours waiting to be seen at a local hospital and was finally treated for a 2” deep wound that just missed his lung. He is being treated by our volunteer doctor Sashka Macsimovic.
Thandiwe Mlotshwa, one of the Seniors constructing the center, lost her mother last week to what we think was meningitis. Her mother’s sister died that same week, both in their 50’s. Thandiwe is alone now so we are making sure she is well supported.
Ethel Ngwenya, who arrived at Zimkids a few years ago listless and sick with worms and following treatment brightened to smiles and energy had to move to one tiny rented room with her gogo (grandmother), Melta, after being kicked out of their home. Gogo, 63 years old, lost her husband of 35 years two years ago. As is customary here, his family took possession of the house, rented it and sent them packing with the clothes on their back. We are helping her get on her feet.
And that’s the story! We move forward ever hopeful to improve and in some cases save lives. Thank you for helping our kids learn to help themselves.
A reminder: Mark your calendar for June 13. It's GlobalGiving's Bonus day where every donation to Zimkids gets a 50% matching grant from Global Giving!
We at Zimkids are exhausted, but happy since we're moving ahead at a dizzying speed, thanks to the help of a growing number of wonderful supporters. The seniors, Tinashe and I have now finished the skeletons of all our new buildings and the roof structure. Next we will be installing the roofing, the floors and window panes then on to plumbing. Our Senior girls are now the first trained female construction workers in the country, and Foster has become a master, expert builder.
Once the roofs, floors and interior finish work is done, our local guardian angel, Mike Randall, will give the Seniors on-the-job training in plumbing. We've made a terrific new friend who is installing solar traffic lights in the city, and he has designed a solar system that will allow us to operate entirely off the grid. Obviously, that's a huge relief since it means that we will always have electricity - unlike most of the neighborhood, which is dark as much as 8 hours a day - but that also we will have no on-going utility costs. He plans to train the Seniors in solar installation as part of an Environmental Stewardship program he's beginning.
At that point, we'll be ready to begin our self-sustainability programs, our Computer Center/Internet Cafe and our market garden (which is being designed using drip irrigation and tunnel greenhouses to conserve water).
Much of this has been made possible by two grants that we just received, one from the P&G Alumni for our Tech Center and the other from U.S. Embassy in Harare through the Ambassador's Fund and PEPFAR (the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). A high school student from California, Carly Bidner, is raising funds for our sports program. And two Rotary clubs have expressed interest in assisting us with our solar installation. Thanks to St. Raphael’s in Fairbanks, Alaska for their Christmas Gifts.
Five members of the USAP Program (the United States Achievers Program, which helps talented disadvantaged youth to find scholarships to U.S. universities) have now begun tutoring all our 3rd and 4th form students who are preparing for their high school graduation exams. They're extremely excited since there education has been so spotty and they have watched almost all of their brothers and sisters fail.
Obviously, we're continuing with our "normal" activities, distributing food, working with the children, taking children and their caregivers to our doctor. Dr. Maksimovic is about to conduct a workshop with our older kids to give them basic skills we all have - like taking temperature, blood pressure and ask the first medical questions needed when someone has a problem.
All in all, then, despite the normal problems of electricity, water and bureaucracy, we're thriving and excited about the future.
We have one request as we move toward it (actually, we have many, but only one for this month): As we train all of our kids on computers, we'd like to collect as many computer games as possible, both educational and purely recreational. So if any of you have games - really, computer or not - gathering dust, please consider sharing them with us. You can write me at email@example.com to make arrangements.
ZimKids has been rocking and rolling over the past two months. All of the brickwork on the buildings for our new “home” is almost complete, and the roof structures are rising. Plastering has begun, and Zimbabwe now has its first two female plasterers, our very own Sithibisiwe and Thandiwe! The grounds have been landscaped with a dry garden of cacti and aloes. The paintings on the wall between us and the street have become such a local attraction that people constantly come by to admire and photograph them. Shaka Ndlovu is teaching our Elders who will teach our children how to paint wall art.The younger children have begun digging vegetable plots for their families. Students at Carmel, a local private school, raised $150 and bought us a solar cooker and some post and pans. We distributed glasses donated by an American medical researcher here on the Fullbright program. And thanks to the generosity of the Proctor and Gamble Alumni network, we’re in the process of purchasing a full solar array so that we can be independent of the crumbling electrical grid and operate without a monthly electric bill.
In terms of the building project, while the plastering team moves from building to building, the roof team hopes to have the buildings closed in by the end of February or early March. As we complete that work, the plumber will train our Seniors to connect the toilets to the sewer and the electrician will show us how to put in our wiring. We’ll still have a dozen small items to complete – putting the glass into the windows, polishing the floors, doing the final clean-up. But we’re on target to be done by the end of April.
As Tinashe and Dennis have worked with the Seniors at the building site, the Council of Elders have been continuing their wonderful programs with the younger children. Just this weekend, they began rehearsing with them for a special play for the Center opening!
Things are harder then ever here as prices continue to rise. Rents keep rising, and people now are paying $100 a month for two tiny rooms. Food prices for everything but vegetables are now well above what we pay in the U.S., and medical care is astronomically costly. We’ve managed to continue providing the safety net that was our first project and in December, Adrian Suskin, our ever-loyal guardian angel, sponsored a special food distribution. Our terrific doctor is still keeping people as healthy as possible when they live with water and electricity cut-offs and no money.
By the end of the year, we’re expecting that we’ll have an abundant garden and a functioning poultry project to help out our families and provide ZimKids with a bit of income. Once our solar panels are installed, we’ll begin networking our computers and training our young people so that we can open our very own Internet café and computer training center – the first one for miles around!
So, as we move into 2012, thank you again for all your support and encouragement. Every time officials stop by – from the community, the city, or from embassies – and admire what we’ve accomplished, we think with immense gratitude how far we have come because of the amazing generosity of our friends!
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