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.
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