Traveling back to Zimbabwe after a long stint away (thanks to Covid), was like taking a long drink of cool water on a summer day. And visiting the Sandra Jones Center where I had the chance to talk to children of all ages, from babies to older teens, was such a gift! This is one of AFCA’s greenhouse projects, where girls are taught how to farm inside and out of greenhouses, providing them with valuable skills for their futures. And today I get to spend time with some of the girls, teaching an art class for them.
“Do you like McDonalds? What about Starbucks?”, is how the conversation starts. I say I do not eat at either place and ask them how they know of these establishments. They tell me that they have heard of them and that they assume I like eating there, like most Americans. I tell them I prefer home cooked meals and they laugh. Next, they ask me if I can share my daughter’s phone number with them so they can all chat through WhatsApp. I tell them that Juju doesn’t own a cellphone and I think these girls are going to pass out. “WHAT? How can she not own a phone? Aren’t you American, Auntie Tanya?”
I use this time to talk about wants and needs and art is sort of put to the side while we discuss life. We are crowded around a table, paints and glitter forgotten, as we chat about their lives, school, my life, work, and music. These girls, all from broken backgrounds and sad, tragic pasts…all these girls, so beautiful, so full of life, so inquisitive! It is obvious to me that these girls now understand what it is to be loved and valued. They are eager to grow and to flourish and I know that this place they now call home has given them new life. With expectations they can meet, the feeling of unconditional love, staff with listening ears and ready hugs, with counselors who understand, and with a purpose for their lives, these girls are the future of their country. I know that when the time comes for them to leave this home, they will be well prepared to meet the challenges they will face as young adults because here they not only learn life skills and earn an education, but they also have learned of their worth.
Our class (not much art was done!) comes to an end, but the gaggle of girls follows me as I make my way to the main house. We sit, once again crowded, on sofas in a waiting area and share a bag of chips while we continue to chat. These girls remind me of my Juju – teenagers full of promise. I am honored to be part of a program which is preparing them for a future where they can provide for themselves, growing food, earning a living, and knowing what it is to have dignity and love. This is good. So very good.
Everyone here at the American Foundation for Children with AIDS, and our partners in Africa, thank you for your continued support of this important project. If you would like to learn even more about this project and others, please contact Tanya Weaver at tweaver@AFCAids.org.