Zimkids’ latest program is taking our young people 7 miles from our center and a world away, beyond the edge of the city into a small settlement of crude shacks, without water or electricity, into a world where children’s prospects are even dimmer than they are in Pumula, where we operate. 70 percent of the children in the community are orphans, most of the teenage girls already have two or more kids, usually by two or more fathers. So babies are raising babies.
For our older kids, going to Methodist, as the community is called, is giving back, taking their days off to transfer the skills they’ve acquired at Zimkids, bringing joy and knowledge where there is so little. We tried something similar several years back with the families squatting at the dumpsite, but it was simply too far away – and our older kids did not yet have the initiative. That has changed now, and our seniors and alumni are doing an amazing job at Methodist – and we hope to find the money for a vehicle that will allow this to become a formal Zimkids program.
Meanwhile, back at the Center, we’re gearing up for a whole new cohort of kids to enter our vocational training program and become leaders in our outreach effort at Methodist. They just sat their O-level examinations (following the traditional British system, Zimbabwe has two levels of high school, Ordinary and Advanced level, with the latter being primary for those oriented toward university education.) Results will not be out until February, but we expect that most of our young people will not pass since they received little education during primary school, a time when teachers were on strike for several years. Usually, our pass rate is well above the national average, but that’s not saying much since, nationally, only 1 in 5 children pass their exams.
So we’re bringing in supplies for welding and sewing, construction and carpentry – and Samantha is looking forward to extra help in the preschool, where she’ll be training childcare workers.
Our littlest Zimkids are preparing for graduation, and they are more than ready for Grade 1. They not only know the alphabet and basic numbers, taken their first steps toward mastering computers, and have been awash in the books generous donors have been sending their way. While they’re been with us, they’ve been well-nourished, thanks to our feeding program and our abundant garden; well-dressed because of donations of shoes from the Buckner Foundation; and warm because of the Texas grandmothers, who keep making them amazing blankets.
Once they’re in school, we won’t lose track of them, of course, since they’ll be back at “home” with us on weekends and over school holidays.
Tinashe Basa, our director, arrived in October, on his annual reporting and fundraising trip. We’ve been thrilled at the growing number of schools and churches interested in our work, so he’s been racing around with Dennis, our founder, from Texas to Maryland, Cincinnati to New York, and then on to Alaska. Knowing that Philip, his number 2, is capably running things back home, Tinashe can enjoy the relief from the constant power and water cuts, from the incessant road blocks where police always find a reason – often a non-reason – to demand a $10 fine, and from the late-night phone calls about a medical emergency. (And the latter would be a major emergency at the moment since the hospital physicians are all on strike!)
Last Saturday, I arrived late at our Center in Pumula, and this is what I found:
Foster Dingani and Collen Makurumidze were training and supervising a crew of younger boys and, in two days, they almost had the brick foundation of our new Sewing Center completed – plumb, square and level! Three years ago, when I told our Seniors that we were going to build the Center ourselves, Foster admits that he thought that I was a crazy old man. Now, he’s the teacher – and I no longer need to get my hands dirty!
Foster didn’t join Zimkids on his own initiative; his grandmother ordered him to attend just after he lost his father and his mother moved back to her rural home, 200 miles away. “For the first year, I only went because I was forced,” he admits. “Then, I wanted to spend all my time; it was just too stressful at home. If not for Zimkids, I don’t know what I’d be doing now. I’d probably be hanging out at the shops drinking like everyone else.”
Having skills is essential for him since he is raising his younger sister and his niece.
Collen, whose father died when he was four years old, was sent to Zimkids by his mother, who lives in an 18x18 foot one bedroom house with Collen, his sister and her two children. He quickly became our “artist in residence,” creating some of our most amazing dolls and teaching our younger children to draw. He and Foster are our resident builders – and Collen has now finished a course in electrical installation.
They haven’t just learned all the basic construction skills. Perhaps more important, they’ve learned how to learn. Recently, they were revamping and updating our solar grid and hit a wall: Something was wrong in one of their connections and they couldn’t figure it out. That night, they each went home and searched the net for answers, intent on finding a solution before the arrival of our solar expert the next day. At 5:30 a.m., Collen called Foster. “I have a couple of ideas,” he said. “Let’s do it. Let’s figure it out!” By 7 am, our mini-grid was functioning perfectly – and Foster and Collen realized the power of not giving up.
As I left the building site, I ran into Lindiwe Mabhena, who wanted to show me the new primary school uniform she’d completed. With Charity, Lindiwe will run the sewing center, a project that will provide income both for our older girls and Zimkids, as well as training for younger girls.
Pauline Mhendo was moving around between the kitchen, where the older girls were cleaning; the resource center, where Sithebisiwe and the group of girls were working with our younger dollmakers; and the playground, where a few of the toddlers from our weekday preschool program were hanging out. “You know, I’ve been thinking,” she said, pulling me aside to talk about her latest idea for cutting costs on the program. That’s Pauline, a seamless multitasker, natural organizer, and superb planner.
Pauline joined Zimkids after the death of her mother in 2005. Just 28 years old, she’d lost her husband ten years earlier. Pauline moved in with her grandmother who sold veggies at a street-side stand, but she, too, passed away, leaving Pauline to live with her aunt and uncle. Pauline was always one of Pumula’s best students, and when she passed her Ordinary Levels with flying colors, we sent her to a church-run boarding school not far from town for her Advanced Levels. Now, two years after she completed her education, she’s essentially acting as our assistant director.
I look around then, in near-awe. We – the trustees and staff, the volunteers and you, the donors – are succeeding almost beyond our wildest hopes.
Not everything is rosy, of course. We still struggle to maintain the health of our HIV-positive young people. And too many families continue to treat our orphans abusively. Most importantly, we’re still stymied by the realities of Zimbabwe: Zimkids is working, but the country is not. After years of runaway inflation that reached 360 MILLION percent, in 2009 government suspended the local currency and moved toward the use of the dollar. The economy began to stabilize and business to rebound. But this year, things have begun sliding back in the wrong direction.
Transparency International Corruption Index ranks Zimbabwe 163 out of 174 countries. 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 next three months. Over 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.
The solar energy company that had hoped to launch Foster and Collen into a business as their subcontractors hasn't had the capital to do so. And while they have both completed advanced training courses – Foster in boilermaking and Collen in electrical installation – neither can find a paid internship, a necessary step for their licenses, and neither can afford to work for free.
For the moment, then, we’re concentrating on helping our beneficiaries develop skills that will allow them to work on their own – whether by selling and installing low-cost solar panels, welding metal burglar bars, or sewing school uniforms. Our kids are ready…all they need is a chance.
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.
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.
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.
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. Sithabisiwe and Collen received their certificate for successfull completion of first aid training course. They are our first responders!
As always, then, we going from triumph to challenge. And, as always, we move forward thanks to your generosity.
The past few weeks at Zimkids have been exciting, so let me try to boil it all down:
The big news: Across Zimbabwe, only 18.4 percent of high school students passed their national exams, but 70 percent of our Zimkids prevailed. Those results were deeply satisfying, as you can imagine. All that tutoring, encouragement and training really paid off. We are paying for those students continue to the second level of secondary school – Advanced Level.
One of the others, Samantha, is running a new program we began for three to six year olds who are with us every day 9am to 3pm. This program offers a nutritional support component using a high-nutrient supplement that is receiving rave reviews in South Africa. The latest, and littlest, Zimkids, are already learning English, reading and taking their first tentative steps onto computers.
Our vegetable garden was suddenly overrun with army worms in January which ate everything in sight in a matter of hours. So we have replanted and consulted with agricultural people on ways to combat the worms. We now are growing chimulia (kale), spinach, tomatoes and onions.
Tinashe is busier than ever in the Tech Center, continuing his training with the older children even as he begins training both the small newcomers, including some three-year-olds, and the caregivers, including 80 year-old grandmothers who have never actually touched a computer.
Go to our website – www.zimkids.com - to see the latest video news or, if you are on facebook you can find the videos on our facebook page www.facebook.com/zimkids.
We’ve made a terrific new alliance with Contact, a local counseling center funded by the German and Greek governments. They will be offering workshops for our staff, for the older children, and the caregivers, and are making their professional staff available when we confront difficult family situations. They run a counseling training program, usually limited to candidates over the age of 25. But they have agreed to include Sithabisiwe, who will begin training part-time in March.
The Center is in beautiful condition, being carefully maintained by its builders. We recently added a roof for shading over the 15 meter art table behind the resource center. Built entirely by former trainees with the help of current ones.
Some wonderful new friends in New York are working on a Bra drive because bras are expensive and in short supply here. We’d also talked about doing something to address the awful problem of the high cost of sanitary napkins. At first, we’d thought about a fundraising drive for reusable pads, but our physician here protested because of the difficulty of keeping them sanitary. Instead, we’re investigating the possibility of borrowing a page from a terrific Indian group that has invented three machines that allow for the creation of a small-scale sanitary napkin factory. The biggest challenge is sourcing the materials needed here. So many businesses are closed or closing, but we’re excited by the possibility of opening a small business that would provide experience, employment, and the cheapest sanitary pads in the country! That would be a wonderful addition to our training program for girls, which is continuing with welding. They are in the midst of welding shelving for our expanded library and storage room. This requires them to plan the size, shape, and height to fit the space so they are getting a lesson in drafting. Then they have to measure and cut the pieces and finally weld so that the shelf is level. The girls are in great need of experience in planning, organizing and administration as we move forward with microenterprises for them. A small factory would certainly provide them with on-the-job training. So as we look into the possibility - we hope the necessary materials can be sourced locally.
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Happy New Year, friends of Zimkids! We’re gearing up for an amazing new year in Pumula, thanks to your continued support.
Several weeks ago, the new U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Bruce Wharton, made Zimkids his first stop outside the capital, Harare, following his appointment. Sithabisiwe and Thandi took him on a tour and described the impact that the Zimkids training program had both on them and on the building of the center. The younger children performed and even got him dancing. And the caretakers were extremely generous in their compliments. One grandfather pointed to a welding machine and said, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. Now, my granddaughter even knows how to use one!”
That night at dinner, Ambassador Wharton told friends that he thought Zimkids should be an international model. Needless to say, Tinashe and the team were extremely pleased!
At the moment, everyone is waiting anxiously for the arrival of the 65 boxes that we shipped thanks to the generosity of the US African Children’s Fellowship, which ships books and other supplies to rural schools. The books we sent – donated by schools in the Catskills and individuals from all over – will more than quintuple the size of our library. We’ll have new equipment for our sports programs. Scores of board games will keep the kids mesmerized when it rains since they’d never seen board games until we brought a few back last year. Scrabble has become the hot competitive “sport,” and fortunately, we’ve shipped plenty of dictionaries!
Three donated sewing machines courtesy of a donor in Texas will allow us to try our hand at a new income-producing projects. And we think that we can train both boys and girls to gain skills and income.
Finally, we’ll be able to ramp up our clinic with a scale, blood pressure cuffs, assorted equipment and a whole range of supplies. Sithabisiwe and Collen have gone through a 3-day First Aid training course, and we’re planning to give them more training so that they can serve as a first line of care in coordination with our private physician. The drought in Bulawayo is so severe water is turned off for 4 days a week. It needs to be boiled and many of our families have no electricity and are forced to burn wood. As a result many of our kids are getting sick. Tinashe has spent the last couple of months ferrying children to our doctor for treatment and we are doing all we can to educate about water borne diseases.
Now that things are organized and running smoothly at the new Center, we’ve begun an intake of new children, concentrating on kids ages 4-10 years. We’ve arranged to purchase a high-nutrition porridge to feed them in the morning. We’re hoping that providing it to the younger children will help their development, both physical and mental.
We have not forgotten our Girl Effect plans, of course, and we plan to use the money we are receiving from the Nike/Globalgiving Challenge to continue training girls to weld and to create the first of what we hope will be the first of several spin-off businesses, ZimGirls Welding.
Many, many thanks to our board of advisors, Ric Keeley in San Francisco, Mzu Ngwenya (Team Siyakha) in London, Gloria Slagle in Fairbanks and Julie Tazzia in Michigan. Their work on behalf of Zimkids has been amazing and wonderful. Also thanks to the Ross School Friends Academy in New York, Andes and Roxbury Central Schools in the Catskills for their generous and welcoming support. And of course, to the thousands of individual donors who through their contributions have made possible a rainbow of opportunities for our orphans.
Dennis is on his way back to Zimbabwe on January 15. Since things are running smoothly without him, he plans to exercise a light touch in the daily operations and concentrate on new initiatives, creating vocational training programs and business management programs.
For Zimkids, then – and we hope for all of you – 2013 promises to be an amazing and productive new year! Thanks to all of you!
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