In our last update, we tried to give you a sense of the struggle we face to launch our girls into independence. Several of you suggested that we follow that up with specifics, so we want to tell you about Delight.
Like so many of our orphans, Delight, who just turned 17, has not had a stable home since the deaths of her parents. When she was younger, she lived with an aunt, but as she’s grown up, her uncle has demanded that she stay in his household. This was not an act of generosity or familial affection: Her uncle has a young child, and he wants Delight to serve as a live-in babysitter. The situation is less exploitative at her aunt’s, although there, she suffers regular beatings.
And in both cases, Delight is stuck at a community called Methodist, an informal settlement 20 minutes by foot from Zimkids, little more than a collection of tin and mud shacks scattered, ironically, around a Methodist church. It’s rare to go to Methodist and not encounter two or more drunks arguing and fighting. There’s no electricity, and there’s a single communal tap to provide residents with water.
Last November, Delight sat for her O-level examinations, end-of-high-school tests given nationally. To gain an O-level certificate, a student must pass exams in five different subjects. Delight was optimistic that she’d pass at least three since her marks in three subjects were good. But in February, when examination marks were released, her school refused to release her grades because her school fees had not been paid for three years.
If we had known about the problem, we would have paid those fees, but she hadn’t told us. If she’d attended a government school, we could have demanded the release of her results since the courts recently ordered schools to do so even in cases of non-payment of fees. But Delight had been enrolled in a Catholic School by an international NGO that promised to pay for her education and then failed to do so. The first Delight heard of the change was when the school sent debt collectors to her aunt’s house in an attempt to squeeze juice out of the driest of lemons.
It took Zimkids almost four months to find the right person to pressure at the NGO, then to convince the organization to pay the back fees, and finally to get the paperwork necessary to prove that the cash had been transferred to the school. After all that effort, the results were depressingly disappointing: Delight passed only one exam, and that one with a D.
Delight is a serious, focused young woman who has her eye set on joining the police force. But without an O-level certificate, that dream will elude her.
We are responding with a two-pronged strategy. We currently have two tutors working with Delight to prepare her to retake – and ACE – her exams. Simultaneously, we’re employing her in the hopes of developing her other skills: organization, anticipation, planning, and decision=making.
But neither strategy will succeed if Delight’s uncle continues to resist her desire to spend her days at Zimkids rather than at his house serving more or less as his maid or if Delight loses the strength to resist a community constantly pressuring her to find a man and get pregnant.
That’s where Philip, our Program Director, who is a licensed social worker, comes in. Every day, Philip finds himself trudging to one household or the other to intervene with a family blocking the aspirations of a young person like Delight. Thus far, he has kept her uncle at bay. And every day, he and the rest of our staff work to bolster Delight’s determination not to wind up another pregnant young woman living in a shack and raising a new generation with no future.
Is this thoroughly depressing? It shouldn’t be because for every loss we’ve suffered, we’ve had our fair share of wins, whether with Pauline, who is now works as a pharmacist assistant, or with Samantha, who runs our preschool and many many others.
At Zimkids, we try to focus on the positive.