Greetings from Zimbabwe, where winter has ended and the heat has begun. We are hoping the experts’ predictions of severe drought will not come to pass. Last year’s drought left millions of people without sufficient food. Staple food shortages and price hikes are now the norm.
Generally, our updates to you are about programs and challenges, and we thought that this month we should show you what those programs actually mean in the lives of the young people of Zimkids. The clearest way to paint you that picture is with the story of a single young person whose life has been dramatically changed.
Sithabisiwe joined Zimkids in 2008 at the age of 15. She was preternaturally mature even back then, probably because her father had died five years earlier and her mother struggled. When she died in 2010, Sithabisiwe took on the responsibility of running what Zimbabweans call a “child-headed” household, raising her two brothers, then 11 and 9 years old.
She grew into a fiercely devoted and responsible parent figure. When her youngest brother was slapped so hard by a teacher that he lost hearing in that ear, she bucked local custom of never questioning those in authority and took on the headmistress of his school about the teacher’s violation of the law and injury to her brother.
Sithabisiwe was one of our first trainees, part of the five member team that built the Zimkids complex. So she can dig a foundation and trenches, mix cement, lay brick and block, plaster walls, install solar frameworks, and paint. She laid the brick for your sinuous walkways and welded/designed and installed security doors and railings. When we began building our sewing center, she took on the responsibility for training the younger ZimGirls in construction. And somehow, she also managed to learn to use a computer so that she can prepare monthly reports on her work and to learn to sew.
But neither sewing nor manual labor is where Sithabisiwe’s heart is. She always dreamed to studying hard and becoming SOMEBODY to set a good example for her brothers. First, she took a course and received a certificate in first aid. Then, she expressed interest in a counseling course. Arranging that wasn’t easy since the course required that students be over the age of 25 and have passed at least five subjects in their high school national Ordinary level examinations. Sithabisiwe was just 18 and did not have five passes. But she so impressed the organizers of the counseling program that they allowed her to “give it a try,” clearly expecting that she would fail. A year later, she received her diploma in counseling, the youngest graduate of the program. For the past two years, she has worked with troubled children and met with their caregivers to help them cope with their difficulties.
But that wasn’t enough for Sithabisiwe. She attended yet another course and just received her certificate in Early Childhood Education. She joining Samantha as our second licensed pre-school teacher.
Sithabisiwe’s name means, “We have been made happy,” and it could not be more apt. She’s clear, confident and loyal, a perfect rule model for younger girls. Even as we train young people in the hope that they’ll move to jobs in the community, we dread the day Sithabisiwe ever departs since she is the mother figure in our Zimkids family.
Other news: Tinashe Basa, our director is now in the USA meeting with schools, civic groups and churches in our annual fundraising and outreach to American school children. See video link below.
We are sad to inform you that Pritchard died on September 10 after a lifelong illness at age 15. He knew brief periods of happiness with us at Zimkids. We are making sure his younger brother, Praymore is well taken care of.
It’s easy for charities to hide difficulties they face from their donors. After all we want to put the best face forward. But you deserve candor if you’re to have continued confidence in us. So, here goes:
Many of our first groups of female vocational trainees were stellar: They were eager to learn, worked incredibly hard, and have proven themselves again and again. They engaged in welding, construction, sewing, nurse’s aide training, early childhood training and computer skills. Since then, we’ve struggled: Our present cohort of girls shy away from construction or other heavy work and take much less initiative than our first class of girls finishing school. And, most of all, their female guardians either discourage them from entering training programs, or undermine their ability to participate since they want them to stay home, cooking, cleaning and taking care of the younger kids in the household. Boys are allowed unambiguous freedom; girls are tethered to the demands of often-elderly caregivers.
In an effort to deal with this problem, we began working with the caregivers to help them understand that, while they might experience a short-term loss of the girls’ labor at home, they had to think of the long-term gain of having income flowing into the household. It didn’t work. They don’t mind that their older girls aren’t busy enough and that six girls out of this cohort have already gotten pregnant. In fact, it became clear that the caregivers wanted to be paid to allow the girls to participate in vocational training.
So we’ve gone back to the drawing board, relying on the advice of Samantha, Zimkid since age 10, now our pre-school certified teacher at age 19, and Sithabisiwe, Zimkids since age 12 now our certified councilor, two of the first trainees. They both received a great deal of negativity from their female elders when they trained with us, but they are, by nature, more assertive than most local girls. Their advice, then, was to form a club for girls over the age of 13 to deal with the problem from the ground up, so to speak, by creating a new culture for them. They’re trying to break down the barriers against girls’ talking to each other about their problems (and there’s a strong cultural belief that other girls are your enemies, who will gossip about you), against cooperating rather than competing, and against initiative.
The first task is to forge them into a solid group – called Young Girls of Tomorrow. The initiative is in its early days, but we’re hopeful that this might be a more solid strategy that will help the girls move forward. They face such immense cultural obstacles, and we’re just beginning to play with more ideas for overcoming them.
Of course, we continue our training programs even as we work on cultural and personal matters.
So, this time, can we also ask for suggestions? You make it possible for us to help our girls, so please don’t be shy! Write Dennis Gaboury, Founder at email@example.com or Tinashe Basa, Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your years of support.
A recent story in a Zimbabwean newspaper declared that the national formal economy is collapsing. In response, the country’s leading economist disagreed, arguing that it could be more aptly described as just in intensive care. Government owes $10 billion, long overdue, to foreign lenders. Most projections suggest that the economy will grow 1.2 percent this year, hardly enough to create jobs for the 80+ percent of the adult population already unemployed, not to mention the 300,000 school leavers who look for a foot in the economy annually. With businesses closing and government unable to hire anyone since it can no longer pay its salary bill, even university graduates have resorted to selling used clothes at the markets.
The situation is particularly precarious for our under-educated girls who have little hope. They become the easy prey of older men who offer them money or gifts – only to wind up pregnant and abandoned.
Providing our girls with meaningful skills – personal and vocational – to avoid this trap is one of our most constant struggles. Increasingly, we are turning to skills usually considered male in Zimbabwe since they provide the greatest flexibility for small business. Teenage girls are perfectly comfortable serving their male relatives, as expected by their elders. The pressure to conform is enormous. So it takes some doing to stimulate their interest, but we’re getting there. Teenage rebellion is not at all the cultural norm.
One group of our girls just finished all the elements (poles and hoops) of a basketball court that we just installed at the rural school the children in our outreach program attend. Marvelous, a school leaver, ASKED to be sent to a course in electrical wiring, and she’s already halfway through. And when we revamped our kitchen, Lynn requested instruction in tiling, mortoring and the sawing the plywood underlayment of our countertops.
The brightest light on the horizon is the negotiations we’re in with a local motorcycle manufacturing start-up company that sought us out as partners because of our vocational training program in welding and a funder interested in businesses involved in such partnerships. If all goes well, our girls will weld and build component parts for supply to the plant and, over time, be hired at the plant itself. FINGERS CROSSED!!!
And we’re working hard to ensure that our littlest boys and girls are nudged beyond the gender roles to which they are trained and home and in the community. Even at tender ages, too many of the boys think that their sisters need to wash their dishes. But not at Zimkids! In between lunch and nap time they line up for computer training beginning at age 3!
We just wanted to end with a shout out to the wonderful ZSA ZSA Team from the Rotary Club in Knoxville, which recently visited the Center. In collaboration with the Books for Africa Foundation, they’d sent us dozens of boxes of books, and they arrived just in time to see our staff catalogue and shelve that contribution. Read about their visit at http://www.zsazsagroup.com/2015/02/
Our older girls are soaring – and we are unabashedly proud of their achievements. Thamani and Hloniphile have just finished a course that led to their certification as nurses’ aides – and they will begin working at the central hospital in January. They are certainly the only nurse aides who can also weld, lay brick and build shelves!
Sithabisiwe finished her training and is now a certified counselor. She was the youngest in her class - and the only one in her class to have completed the year long course. Samantha, who runs our preschool, also defied age barriers, receiving her certification as an early childhood educator at age 19. Pauline, who finished her Advanced Level high school diploma thanks to the financial support of Zimkids, also completed her early childhood course.
Our girls continue learning to weld, lay brick and block, plaster and paint as part of our construction skills training, and we plan to keep our cohort of recent high school graduates busy with hands-on training as we break ground for the preschool classroom we are about to build.
Not all of our plans go entirely smoothly, and the details demonstrate some of the challenges we face. Several years ago, we conceived the idea of a sewing center that would both train some of our older young people and provide income to Zimkids through the construction and sale of school uniforms. Unfortunately, the two girls chosen to lead the effort, who we sent for courses in sewing, cutting and patternmaking, proved too passive to launch the project, and one of their caregivers tried to insert herself into the activity. We’re currently looking for the right girls to replace them, but we realized how much more effort we need to put into helping these young people to be proactive and to think outside of the box.
I should end with a special New Year Shout-out to all of our amazing donors. We have now received financial assistance from more than 2,000 of you, and without that help, we could never have gotten that far. Consider that the group of we think of as our Texas gogos (grandmothers) made over 200 quilts and bought new underwear for our kids, as well as furnishing the sewing center with sewing and overlock machines, along with thread, scissors, fabric and patterns. A group of young people in Plano, Texas made 50 fleece blankets for our preschoolers. The Buckner Foundation gave Zimkids shoes for all our kids. And our wonderfully generous friends from the P&G alumni network have, time and again, provided us with the funds necessary to build the structures we need for our vocational projects.
We end 2014 optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction because every day we see our children growing stronger, in body and in spirit. We at Zimkids wish you the happiest of new years with bottomless gratitude for making ours so bright.
These have been exhausting days at Zimkids as we juggle the growing number of projects in which our girls are involved. Providing them with skills to ensure their futures, as well as the future of Zimkids, seems even more pressing as recent HIV prevalence statistics for Bulawayo grow increasingly grim. The city’s prevalence rate of almost 22 percent is now 50 percent above the national average. Across the country, 1.2 million adults are living with HIV, a constant reminder of how many new orphans we will need to serve.
The new school year begins in January, and December is the month when parents began their search for the required school uniforms for their children. Our new sewing center, then, is buzzing with activity as the girls cut and sew to stockpile for the coming demand. Uniforms are expensive, often hard to find, and available only in town, a $2 trip. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that a lower price and easy availability will give us plenty of orders. Our girls are certainly ready! And we should note that even as they prepare for the uniform season, the girls are also teaching all the children how to sew in the hope that they will at least be able to care for their own meager stocks of clothing.
The ZimGirls Welders are hard at work, and our preschool is filling the youngest children’s days with sports, computer games, the alphabet and multiplication – and their bellies with solid nutrition. Our plan to open the program to paying students – which continuing to offer our programs to orphans free-of-charge – is moving along. Doing so requires us to construct a new building – a wonderful opportunity for our construction trainees – since the specifications for the physical premises of a licensed preschool are quite stringent. We’re scrambling to raise the funds for materials but are confident that our generous donors will help us so that the preschool will become self-supporting.
Our most recent initiative involves more careful monitoring of the health of our young people – and more focused health education as well. Thanks to a donation targeted to health care, two of our Senior girls aare now finishing a nurses’ aide course. They have conducted baseline health screenings of all 200 children and are monitoring them monthly, using a spreadsheet designed by one of our girls who caught the computer “bug.”
As we watch young people who have been with us for 5-6 years running programs, receiving professional certifications, and growing into responsible and creative leaders, we’re confident that we’re on the right track. The girls are not only gaining essential skills, but they are mentoring one another, keeping each other healthy and, as much as possible, out of harm’s way.
Thank you for helping them move forward into bright futures! And please like us on Facebook at /zimkids! Note on our facebok page /Zimkids that we are now a part of AmazonSmile. If you click on the AmazonSmile logo on the left side of our facebook page and whenever you shop at Amazon.smile.com (Same as Amazon) Zimkids will receive a donation from Amazon.
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