BUILDING THE FUTURES OF 100 ZIMBABWEAN GIRLS

by Zimkids Orphan Trust
Vetted
Delight
Delight

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. 

Links:

Esther in uniform at her attachment
Esther in uniform at her attachment

As you might recall from earlier updates, we’ve been struggling to keep our girls in vocational training programs, largely because of resistance from their caregivers, who want them to stay home to cook, clean and watch the younger children. As they had no choice but to succumb to that pressure, an alarming number of girls looked for another way out….and get pregnant.

 

We are working hard to devise ways to break this cycle, talking long and hard with both the caregivers and with the girls themselves. The women’s empowerment group at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in New York City has lent their voices to the struggle, chatting with our girls regularly on Skype, giving them new ways of thinking about themselves, putting them in touch with the ways young women think about themselves and their futures in other parts of the world. Thus far, both groups are enjoying the contact enormously. We’re hoping that the American girls might make some real impact as well.

 

We don’t want to leave you with the impression that none of our girls are thriving. A year ago Eshter finished her O Levels and had always helped out cooking for our kids and eventually handled all the cooking, ordering of supplies and teaching other children. But it was time to move on. Esther  is now in nurses aide training doing her attachment at a downtown clinic. Tamani, who already finished her certification as a preschool teacher and, having finished her nurse aide training, is now our in-house first aide go-to person. She wears three hats, filling in when other teachers are absent, overseeing the health of the children and taking on some of our growing administrative work. Thamani is 19 years old.

 

Rumbidzai, 16 years old, just finished her O-levels but did not pass her exams and is too young for many vocational training programs. But she’s determined not to get pregnant or stay at home, so she’ll be coming to Zimkids daily to begin acquiring work skills as we help her figure out how to plan her future. We are paying school fees for girls who are at risk of leaving school but passed their exams following completion of O levels including Mildred who began her A levels in January. On her days off she is at Zimkids helping other girls.

 

Please know that developing strategies to keep our girls safe and allow them to achieve some independence is our highest priority at the moment. We’re consulting everyone we know with experience in the field and are open to trying almost anything. So if you have any thoughts, PLEASE pass them along. The future of these girls is too important for us to ignore any suggestions. 

Links:

Happy Holidays to all our supporters from around the world!  

Back in late June, 2015 we reported that 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 formed a 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.

Searching for answers hasn't been easy. But we think we have the makings of a powerful way to open our girls eyes into the lives of girls elsewhere. We are, therefore, thrilled to announce that the Women's Empowerment Club at Eleanor Roosevelt High School has agreed to work with our Zimkids girls through regularly scheduled skype video sessions.  

Tinashe, our director, and I visited Roosevelt High this month and spoke to the Honors students and the Women's Empowerment Club about our girls.  We have developed a plan that will give our girls the opportunity to share their lives, concerns, and challenges with their counterparts in the United States.  And vice versa.  We are hopeful that this exchange will enlighten and encourage our girls to look beyond cultural expectations and to engage in the kind of education that we offer to brighten their future and help them to become independent, smart and skilled women.

Wishing all of you a Happy New Year!

Links:

Sithabisiwe in 2008, age 15
Sithabisiwe in 2008, age 15

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.

Sithibisiwe assembling structure for solar panels
Sithibisiwe assembling structure for solar panels
Sithabisiwe plastering cement on new building
Sithabisiwe plastering cement on new building
Sithabisiwe assists Doctor with testing little one
Sithabisiwe assists Doctor with testing little one
Sithabisiwe with pre-schoolers
Sithabisiwe with pre-schoolers
Sithabisiwe receives her Counseling diploma
Sithabisiwe receives her Counseling diploma

Links:

Samantha leads our girls club meeting
Samantha leads our girls club meeting

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 dennis@zimkids.com or Tinashe Basa, Director, at tinashe@zimkids.com.   Thank you for your years of support.

Links:

 

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Organization Information

Zimkids Orphan Trust

Location: Bulawayo - Zimbabwe
Website: http:/​/​www.zimkidsorphantrust.org
Project Leader:
Dennis Gaboury
Chair, Board of Trustees
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
$43,656 raised of $50,000 goal
 
 
1,047 donations
$6,344 to go
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