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.
Ngqabutho joined Zimkids in 2008, when he was 11 years old. His father, Innocent, had died two years earlier, and his mother struggled. That was a difficult time, then, for a first-born son who assumed he’d carry the family mantle. His name means “heir,” and although he had two older sisters, in African tradition, gender always trumps age.
Of course, Ngqabutho had no idea how he’d do that. All he could think of was to become a policeman. But his first experience with the cops was anything but positive. When he was 14, while walking to church on a Saturday afternoon, he was accosted by a group of neighborhood thugs who were playing soccer. “Run and get that ball,” they ordered him after it rolled off into the bush. When Ngqabutho did not hear them, one of the young men stabbed him in the back, missing his lungs by less than an inch. Ngqabutho knew who his attacker was, as did the police. But they refused to do anything because the thugs not only terrify the neighborhood; they terrify the authorities.
In 2010, when Ngqabutho’s mother, Thoko, died, he no longer had to worry about supporting his family. He was too young to do so at that point, and the responsibility fell squarely on the shoulders of his sister, Sithabisiwe, who was 17 years old. With Zimkids’ help, she kept Ngqabutho and his younger brother on the straight and narrow.
When Ngqabutho finished high school in 2013, he immediately joined Zimkids’ training program. He not only learned to weld and apprenticed with both a plumber and electrician, but he became an integral part of the training team that built our sewing center in 2014, mastering everything from laying a foundation to brickwork, painting and plaster. He also constructed our bookcases and security door and was part of the small group that created our amazing zipper sculpture.
Now, at the age of 18, Ngqabutho watches his old friends from high school and from his neighborhood hanging out at the local shops, or wandering the streets aimlessly, without skills or jobs. He, on the other hand, is overseeing all of our center’s plumbing, our greenhouse and orchard, and maintaining our drip irrigation system as well as the wiring of our electric grid. Trained in computers, he’s also responsible for submitting monthly reports about those areas of responsibility.
A fervent soccer player in his free time, Ngqabutho, is honing his skills with tremendous excitement and dedication. The Zimbabwean economy appears to be plummeting once again with even more businesses closing their doors and government squeezing the few that remain. But when things begin to improve yet again, we’re confident that Ngqabutho will be ready to train his replacement and move out into the world of work.
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.
Things are rolling at Zimkids, with young people tiling and planting, learning car repair and boilermaking, and using their new skills to keep our facility in tiptop shape!
But let me back up and give you the full picture. From the first, the goal of our training program was to help our kids gain skills on which to build their futures, which meant skills that would provide them with food, with the possibility of starting their own businesses, or finding employment. The latter possibility narrowed our focus dramatically since there are so few jobs in an economy in which less than 10 percent of the population is formally employed. And since people are so poor, demands for services are extremely limited. We’ve been careful, then, to home in on areas where there is some service demand.
I should interject here that teaching young people to grow food in more efficient and productive ways is part of this program because almost everyone in Zimbabwe, rural AND urban, plants gardens to reduce their need for cash. Given the lack of rain for almost eight months a year, though, they cannot maximize their garden space. So by teaching them about drip irrigation, composting, and greenhouses, we not only produce food for the children who come to the Center but teach the children new ways to plant year-round. So we bought the cement blocks, mixed gravel and cement for the foundation and built two new 18-meter raised beds. Ngqabutho learned plumbing and added an extension to our existing drip irrigation system extending it outside the greenhouse. Our trainees filled the beds with our own compost to add to our production of vegetables. So our vegetables thrive in the middle of Zimbabwe’s dry winter.
Early this year, Dennis worked with a group of young people on tiling, a skill for which there is some demand. As we often do, part of that training was a tiling project at our Center, in this case, our bathroom floors. They had been polished concrete, but the price of continually waxing floors over a year exceeded the cost of tiling. So we opted for saving money and providing a great training project. This time Dennis wasn’t there and they did a stellar job tiling to perfection.
And we continue to train all the older kids in welding and basic construction skills – and they get some experience since we’re always fixing or building something!
Finally, we don’t want to limit ourselves to training in skills that we already have. So, several years ago, we began sending young people for courses – in welding, electricity, early childhood education, counseling and nurse’s aid programs. This year, we broadened our focus a bit, and Shaun is training to be a car mechanic and Peter is learning boilermaking (which includes advanced welding and other skills).
I should probably end by saying that Collin and Foster, two of our first trainees, who learned about everything from laying foundations to roofing, bricklaying and solar energy, now have their own business. After training with us and being hired by a local solar installer, they continue to be his subcontractor while taking on their own jobs – and, yes, they are passing it on by hiring younger Zimkids and training them!
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When we began our vocational training programs, we hoped that by now the Zimbabwean economy would have begun to recover – and that our young people would be finding jobs. But unemployment continues to top 80 percent, by the most conservative estimate, and businesses continue to close. With 300,000 young people leaving school each year, the only hope for the future is serious economic expansion. But the latest estimate is that the economy will grow only 1.2 percent in 2015.
We’re forging ahead, then, especially on training that will allow our young people to start their own small businesses in the community, as Collen and Foster, our solar pioneers, are doing with solar installations – when they’re not working or conducting training sessions for our younger kids.
Nqgabutho is nearly finished a second-level course in electricity, and Shaun, Marvelous and Zibusiso are a year behind him. A new crop of young people has just learned to install floor and wall tile, make cabinet door handles from flat bar and construct countertops and cabinets as part of the revamping of our kitchen. And Nqgabutho and Zibusiso have designed and built circular book shelving that a creative designer would dream about.
Several Zimkids are taking construction to a higher level with their own creativity and designs. Shaun designed and welded a set of amazing, unusual chairs. Peter also welded a giant flying bird, and Nkosi was right behind him with a funny figure topped by a huge head and elaborate shoes. With some tourists still visiting the city and local hotels and safari camps always anxious for something unique, we’re making contact with local businesses in the hope that they might begin to find a market for their work.
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 and boys will weld and build component parts to supply to the plant and, over time, be hired at the plant itself. FINGERS CROSSED!!!
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/
In a country with 94 percent unemployment, every group that works with orphans is dogged by the problem of developing an “exit strategy” for their young charges – and few have succeeded. Zimkids is thus particularly proud that we are not only family, friend and confidante to the young people who have been with us from the beginning and are now finishing high school, but that we have developed programs to train them to open their own businesses and/or in skills that will appeal to the few employers left in the country.
This year alone, a total of eleven people received professional training this year from Zimkids, and we hope that they will follow in the footsteps of Foster and Collen, who received their first training with us in construction and welding and now have entered the workforce installing solar panels and solar hot water heaters for a major company. That’s no small achievement when 40-year-olds with two decades of experience are begging for work! Also, 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.
We sent both Ngqabutho and Zibusiso for training in electrical wiring, and Ngqabutho is about to begin an advanced course, as he will be replacing Foster in maintaining our solar array and electrical infrastructure. He also was trained in plumbing under the guidance of certified plumbers. Even our staff is getting in on the act, with Phillip working on a diploma that will give him a license in social work.
Our welding program continues to thrive and 20 new young people are about to start construction training as part of the construction of a new building for our pre-school. The preschool has proven to be one of our most successful programs, and after our first class “graduated,” neighborhood parents were lining up at our gates requesting places for their children. We realized, then, that we could move toward self-sufficiency by becoming a licensed preschool that would charge non-orphans while accommodating orphans for free. We then sent two of our girls for training and certification as early childhood educators. And we will open both as an independent preschool in January 2016 – and as a certified training center for preschool teachers.
The building will be constructed, as have ALL our buildings, by vocational trainees. At the beginning of this year, Foster and Collen led the seniors and elders on the construction of our sewing center, which took only one month to complete. New builders emerged from this project and both girls and boys worked tirelessly to ensure that the sewing center was finished on time even as they gained practical building skills.
A vital part of our vocational training is to teach our older kids to pay it forward by helping other younger children. Several months ago, our staff and a group of our Seniors – our oldest Zimkids – went a step further by establishing an outreach program to orphans in a crude settlement for displaced families called Methodist 7 miles from our center in the bush. Sithabisiwe, Nkosikhona, Ngqabutho and Samantha have given their all in trying to help the kids from Methodist, and the outreach program has strengthened everyone’s abilities in communication, teamwork, and planning. We recently distributed shoes to our outreach kids courtesy of the Buckner Foundation.
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 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.
Our vocational training programs are keeping everyone hopping inside the walls of our Center, even as things outside them continue to decay. The economy is once again in steep decline. Businesses continue to close, the government continues to raise taxes and fees in order to pay civil servants, whose wages eat up 75 percent of the national budget. And the news on the AIDS front is grim. The national prevalence rate, long in decline, is inching back up, and Bulawayo’s prevalence rate of almost 22 percent is 50 percent above the national average. Across the country, 1.2 million adults are now living with HIV, a constant reminder of how many new orphans we will need to serve.
We’re working hard to teach our young people to become planners, anticipators and organizers. Raised to a culture in which respect for elders and obedience to authority are the prime values, Zimbabwean youth have no experience in these essential skills. Providing them with such training is at the core of all of our activities, and we’re now ratcheting things up a notch with a new outreach program to young people in a village 15 minutes away, young people who are in even more desperate circumstances than our kids. Our older children are learning to pay it forward and have taken the lead in planning activities with those youngsters, assessing their needs, and calculating how they might help without breaking our budget.
Thanks to a generous donation targeted to health care training, two of our Senior girls have almost finished 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.” And the head of the program that trained them has promised to find them employment, a true miracle in a country where unemployment hovers at 90 percent.
Our welding program is soaring, with new designs emerging. Ngqabutho and Zibusiso designed and built fabulous curved shelves for our sewing center - and a visitor was so wowed that he ordered a set for himself!
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, us 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.
Our Resource Center is filled with our youngest children, our second class of preschoolers. Two of our Seniors have now finished training in Early Childhood Education, so we are ready to apply for a license – and then open our doors to some paying children to defray costs for our orphans. The government has stringent requirements about the physical structure of a preschool, so as soon as we find the funds, our crack building team will gear up for a new round of construction – and a new group of trainees, under the guidance of our very own Master Builders, Foster Dingani and Collen Makurumidze, two of our first trainees.
Fortunately, even in this long dry season, our greenhouse is producing a bumper crop of vegetables daily, so we’ll be able to keep their bellies full!
It’s incredibly moving to watch our Zimkids move into adulthood with the tools they need to succeed, with skills and consciences that they’ve developed thanks to your help.
Note on our facebook 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 go to Amazon.smile when you shop Zimkids will receive a donation from Amazon.
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Chair, Board of Trustees