Feed 200 Zimbabwean Orphans Mind, Body & Soul

by Zimkids Orphan Trust
Vetted
Andile created his first wire bicycle
Andile created his first wire bicycle

Over the past several years, we at Zimkids have become increasingly concerned about how to foster the creativity of the children. That’s not an easy task in a country where children are trained to memorize, copy and repeat, and where artisans tend to churn out dozens of identical sculptures and paintings to sell to visiting tourists.

 

We’ve tried encouraging the Zimkids to draw outside the lines, to imagine fantasy worlds, with limited success. But now we have an entirely new vision of how to proceed and we are excited to share our plan with you since we believe that it will nurture our kids in entirely new ways.

 

Have any of you sent a child to a science camp like Camp Invention, where young people are taught to build robots and to make plastic birds fly? For American children, such experiences are terrific, but for Zimbabwean children, such experiences are beyond the realm of imagination. And that is precisely why we are beginning to build our own approach to Camp Invention starting with the creation of wire figures wrapped in strips from soda cans.

 

Tinashe, our director, just took our first steps in that direction by working with a group of children to motorize one of the wire cars that Zimbabwean children build for their own entertainment. Children here always push their cars or trucks with sticks. They might have seen motorized machine-made toys. But they have never seen or imagined motorizing their own creations.

 

That’s where we are starting, and we plan to move on to small robots, animals and robots so that they will simultaneously explore the artistic and the scientific.

 

We are currently preparing grant applications to scale up this step by bringing a trainer from Camp Invention or a similar organization both to work with our children and to train older Zimkids and staff to serve as camp counselors. They will thus be able to offer regular “camps” to our kids and to reach out to the wider community for special camps that will generate income for them and for Zimkids.

 

Step 2 will be geared toward our youngest children, the preschool kids, who are trapped pretty firmly in the rigid curriculum mandated by the Ministry of Education. But during holidays and weekends, we are free to broaden their learning, and we plan to do so by bringing to Zimbabwe an amazing preschool teacher who has been a firm supporter of Zimkids. As with Camp Invention, we plan to have the teacher work with the children directly and with our staff so that her programs can continue.

 

Finally, while we already have a terrific artisan working with the children on the wire cars and figures, on building cars out of tin cans, and imagining how to use other scrap materials to CREATE, we hope to bring in a professional from South Africa to challenge them further.

 

So please keep your fingers crossed for us in our search for grant money. Our children are confined by traditional expectations and traditional ways of thinking. We’re about to make a major push to open their minds and let their imaginations flow.

Mongameli wants to make his gekkos walk!
Mongameli wants to make his gekkos walk!

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Classroom interior
Classroom interior

These past few months have been exhausting at Zimkids as Dennis and the older boys finished up a new preschool building that will allow us to obtain a permanent license even as Samantha and Sithabisiwe taught the little ones in our Resource Centre, and Tinashe and Philip enlisted our older girls to help them run the camps that we always hold during school breaks.

 The construction had been in the planning for almost 18 months, and we found ourselves tangled in the usual bureaucratic inefficiency that often exists to force people to pay bribes. We finally broke things loose about eight months ago, and then the boys pushed themselves to the limit moving tons of rock to fill the foundation, building the walls, roofing, tiling, painting and building all the furniture.

 Was it worth it? Take a peek at the attached photos. Bulawayo has never seen a preschool anything like this!

 Even in the midst of the construction chaos, our older girls have been befriended by girls clubs at two U.S. high schools, and we’re hoping that catching a glimpse of more emboldened peers will help them glimpse new possibilities and find the strength to push at the boundaries of the acceptable.

 And this week, we start serious tutoring for the annual national Grade 7 and Ordinary Level (high school) exams, which begin in October. They are the terror of every school kid in the country, and we decided that focused tutoring might reduce the fear – and improve their skills. Fortunately, we have two very able tutors in Washington, who is also our caretaker, and his sister, who just passed her Ordinary Level exams with some of the highest scores in the region.

 As usual, we cope daily with heartbreak: Children forced to drop out of school by their families, whole communities pressuring 16-year-old girls into early marriage, and routine exploitation.

 One of our favorite little boys, 11-year-old Mthoko, lived for several years here with his grandmother and younger sister. Then, relatives in his rural area snatched him and took him home to herd cattle and goats. When they stopped feeding him, he ran away and a month ago made his way 50 miles back to Bulawayo. At that point, we gave his grandmother the bus fare to go to the village to try to wrest the younger sister away from the relatives, who were turning her into their servant. She didn’t succeed, and we now have learned that the rural relatives plan to grab Mthoko again. This time, however, we are ready for the fight since Philip, our program director, has secured his license as a social worker, which gives him both authority and direct access to child protective services.

 We struggle on, then, buoyed by our successes and by your generosity. At the moment, we’re bracing for an onslaught of need since the government here has announced it will introduce “bond notes” into the economy, what seems to be a backhanded way to take us back to Zimbabwe dollars and, inevitably, catastrophic inflation.

Ready for students
Ready for students
Exterior featuring our alphabet gate made by Peter
Exterior featuring our alphabet gate made by Peter
Mthoko
Mthoko

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Dennis is greeted by our little ones
Dennis is greeted by our little ones

Since our last report we have opened our new Ministry of Education approved pre-school.  At present we have 32 fee-paying students and growing by one or two new additions per week.  Orphaned children attend free.  The fees cover all operating costs including salaries. Word is spreading that our programs, infrastructure and nutrition are better than any other pre-school in the area. And since we are non-profit our fees are lower.   Begun by Samantha when she was only 17 as an informal program the Zimkids pre-school is thriving.  We sent Samantha, Sithabisiwe and Samantha, former Zimkids, to training and all are now certified in Early Childhood Education.  Presently they operate out of our Resource Center. 

  In the afternoon graduates of last year's pre-school return to Zimkids for tutoring and lessons conducted by Mbuso who is 16 years old.

Construction of a purpose built pre-school building has begun.  We are up to the floor level now and hope to complete the building in late April.  As usual, our crew of builders are our older Zimkids as part of their vocational training.  In spite of heat that has rivaled a Middle East summer our crew hauled over 50 tons of rock and rubble to fill the foundation walls that is over a meter deep.  Next week they will mix 20 tons of quarry stone, sand and cement by hand and pour the floor of the building. The new building will house up to 75 students.

Because of the withering heat we lost a lot of our vegetable crop and have since replanted in our outside beds and covered them in shading cloth.  The greenhouse is too hot.

We are sending Esther, Mthokozisi, Shaun, Mike and Eddy on to their attachments in fields as diverse as auto mechanics, nurse aide and boilermaking.  We provide school fees for our neediest and smartest kids. (To provide for all would cost a staggering $65,000 a year so we have to limit our assistance)

On a sad note, Langhilihle, a Zimkids from the start passed away at the age of 20 several weeks ago. She was born HIV+ and managed to get through life well until she was 17.  Zimkids was a home she could come to for meals, hugs and lots of love,  then her grandmother who was her caregiver died .  The extended family abandoned her and Zimkids became central to her survival.  But she soon contracted meningitis. We put her in the hospital, brought her meals, bought her any necessary medication and paid for her treatment.  Because her immune system was already compromised, her case was severe and resulted in brain damage leaving her unable to speak.  Then she got tuberculosis.  But through it all she would come to the center and sit on the benches, have her lunch or dinner, observe the goings on and make dolls – something she loved to do.  We will miss her.

This week we also lost another of our trustees, Energy, 26 years old.  He was born with brittle bone syndrome but managed to graduate from Lynn University on scholarship in May of 2015.  He went on to a job advocating for people with disabilities in Boston.  He returned to his rural home in Zimbabwe two weeks ago and contracted pneumonia and died. He inspired many. He will also be missed.

 

I am humbled but the courageous lives of our Zimkid teachers, builders, students, trainees and trustees. 

Filling the foundation with rock & rubble
Filling the foundation with rock & rubble
Mbuso tutoring first grader pre-school graduates
Mbuso tutoring first grader pre-school graduates
Langilihle posing with her handmade doll in 2015
Langilihle posing with her handmade doll in 2015
Energy, Trustee and advocate for the disabled
Energy, Trustee and advocate for the disabled

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Pritchard
Pritchard

Several months ago, when we shared the story of Pritchard and Praymore, I hoped that I’d be able to fill the next update with good news. Alas, I cannot.

As you might recall, by the time we met them, the two brothers had been through a terrible time: Born with HIV, they were taken off their medication when their mother decided to remarry – and hide her and their condition from her new husband. Within months, she was dead, and the boys, although seriously ill, had been taken in by their grandmother in a rural area, who sent them to the fields to herd cattle.

When their grandmother in town finally rescued them, she took them directly to the hospital. But after a month, the hospital kicked them out for non-payment of fees. That’s when Zimkids heard about the boys and took over, taking the boys to their hospital appointments and delivering monthly food baskets to help them gain strength.

Praymore, 11, quickly perked up, but Pritchard, 14, had enormous difficulties keeping down any food. Our volunteer physician treated him with anti-nausea medication and other drugs to increase his appetite. And for a month, he seemed to grow stronger and we began hoping he was out of the woods.

Then his grandmother left for the rural areas, where she traded clothing for food to maintain the other four children and two adults living with her. While she was gone, the adults ate the food Zimkids had provided for the two boys. And by the time she returned, Pritchard was in trouble. She called us immediately and we took him back to the hospital, where he stayed another week.

Some days we thought he was growing stronger; other days we worried that he was simply to weak to thrive. Finally, in early September, his grandmother called to say that he had grown weaker still. We raced him to the hospital, where they refused to admit him unless we paid $20 admission charge. Philip, our program director, had forgotten his wallet and pleaded with the nurses to begin treating Pritchard while he went home to pick up the money. “He could die if you don’t begin helping him,” he begged in the nurse in charge.

“People die here every day,” she responded.

Five days later, Pritchard joined that growing number of Zimbabweans who die from the fatal combination of disease, neglect, malnutrition and indifference.

His death has hit everyone at Zimkids extremely hard. It was the fourth death among our Zimkids in five years. Each time we vow to work harder, to be more cautious. We do so again with the grim knowledge that our efforts will not always be enough.

We also would like to acknowledge the anniversary of our dear friend and benefactor, Adrian Suskin who passed a year ago.  He is missed.

Everyone’s spirits have been lifted a bit by our steady progress toward the opening of our licensed preschool, which requires the construction of a new building. In October, our older boys poured the concrete base for the foundation and in early November the foundation bricks were delivered. They’re now laying the bricks, and we expect that construction will be completed by the end of April.

Two steps forward, a kick in the gut, some moments of silence and prayers to regroup before we move forward again, with your love and support. Thank you.

Hand mixed gravel, sand & cement poured for base
Hand mixed gravel, sand & cement poured for base
Unloading the bricks for foundation
Unloading the bricks for foundation

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Blankets blankets from our Texas Gogos
Blankets blankets from our Texas Gogos

Zimbabwe’s economy is once again beginning to collapse. Over the past 18 months, more than 4,000 companies have closed and last month alone, 20,000 workers lost their jobs. At this point, 83 percent of government income goes to pay the salaries of government workers, so everything from hospitals and schools to roads and sewer systems is being starved of desparately-needed capital.

 

Poverty levels – and the levels are set at basic subsistence – are skyrocketing. In the region where we work, about 80 percent of the population is considered “poor,” and even experienced teachers are reduced to $230 a month. Food costs match the USA’s.

 

At Zimkids, then, we’ve tightened our belts as much as possible to extend our safety net, most recently to a group of children who live in a shantytown called Methodist several miles away. A year ago, a group of our older kids reached out to the children of Methodist on weekends with games, educational programs and other activities. Just as the southern hemisphere winter set in, boxes of shoes and blankets from our incredible Texas grandmothers arrived, so those children didn’t have to spend the cold months shivering. And now, using the harvest from our own gardens, we have extended our feeding program to those children, swelling our ranks to 300 children.  

 

In our continuing attempt to avoid nagging you and other donors for funds, we’re finally on our way to the one project we believe will help us most in moving toward some level of self-sustainability, opening our pre-school to paying children. Once we had our preschool opened and two of our alumnae licensed as early childhood education (ECD) teachers, we were inundated with requests for places from the families of non-orphans since there is only one other preschool in our area and it lacks almost everything such a facility needs. Our goal is to continue offering free places to orphans but to expand with paying students. In order to do so, we need a new building that is compliant with local regulation – and it took SIXTEEN MONTHS for city council to grant us a permit to begin construction.

 

With that in hand, our kids are now hard at work digging the foundation. We have sent two more of our older alumnae for ECD training and certification. If all goes well, we’ll actually be receiving income when school begins in January and expect that the entire preschool will be self-sustaining within a year. A major victory!

 

The other major victory of the past several months is the improvement in the health of Pritchard, one of our 14-year-olds, whom we feared we would lose weeks ago. Unable to keep food down, he was finally hospitalized. Three weeks after his released, he made his first return foray at Zimkids – wearing a HUGE smile. Although still very thin, he is gradually regaining his weight and strength – thanks to the donors who are helping to provide him with a healthy diet and anti-nausea medicine and to our beloved Dr. Sashka Maksimovic who is always there to help our young people stay well.

 

Tinashe, our director, arrives in the U.S. next month for a fundraising swing around the country. Given our need to build and support an additional 100 children, we’re stretched very tight at the moment. So we’d be extremely grateful if you could link us up with schools or churches that he and Dennis might visit, and if you could consider giving us a recurring donation of even $10 a month. That might not sound like a lot of money, but you’d be shocked how much food it can provide to hungry youth in Zimbabwe.

Clearing the land for our pre-school
Clearing the land for our pre-school
Pritchard with the smile we
Pritchard with the smile we've missed
Tinashe in the States with our partner schoolkids
Tinashe in the States with our partner schoolkids
Produce from our expanded greenhouse feed our kids
Produce from our expanded greenhouse feed our kids

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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
$251,268 raised of $350,000 goal
 
 
1,647 donations
$98,732 to go
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