My answer surprises me. It probably doesn’t surprise you if you have been reading this blog from the very start as this blog is a very specific period of time in my life. But when I used to answer that question it was very different to how I’d answer it now.
It used to be all about buying land, building a house, travelling the world, buying a share in my favourite football team, setting my family up with great places to live and to make their lives easier. Not exactly outlandish desires, but a reasonable mix of things I wanted for MYSELF, as well as others. I think we can all agree that when thinking about the answer to this question, the very first thing to spring to mind isn’t always the first one to come to your lips.
“What would you do if you won the lottery?”
Thinking: I’d buy a Ferrari and tell my boss to f*#k off and then go on holiday.
Actual words that come out of your mouth: “I’d buy my mum a house, maybe go travelling, I dunno”.
So, yes I still want to do all of those things, particularly the house building part (I can’t get enough of Grand Designs as it is, and I’d love to do my own), but since stepping foot in Tariro Orphanage in January of this year, I have changed. My ideas about what I want to do with my life have changed. My thoughts about who I want to be have changed as well. I know that same change has happened with Nicole, but obviously I’m more acutely aware of it happening to me, as, well, its me its happening to…
My winters used to be taken up with going travelling with my friends. Usually to Thailand, going all over that amazing country and eventually settling in what I once referred to as my winter home: Koh Tao. I’ve been to Thailand every winter since 2008 and one particular trip I was there for 4 months, training Muay Thai, running every morning, trying to be as fit as I could be whilst eating amazing food and spending time with amazing friends. I love that place. But I’ve changed…
Thats why its all the more odd that despite my love affair for Thailand that spans almost a decade, once we spent a few weeks in Zimbabwe we knew that this is where we wanted to be this next winter instead. Once we’d spent a few weeks with the orphans of Tariro, and the school children of Great Hood Academy and Robin Hood Nursery, we both knew instinctively that our winter “holiday” time could never be the same again. How could we justify spending our money, and months on end, on holiday effectively doing nothing in Thailand when we could be in Zimbabwe making real change to the lives of children that really need it. We LOVED every minute of every day there. Even the hardest days where it seemed that nothing could go right and that everything was against us. We met the most amazing friends, and became part of a big Zimbabwean family. We have never felt as so instantly part of a community as we did there and then, and when life put obstacles and road blocks in our way, our new found friends were there, front and centre, to help us. Its that kind of passion and community spirit that many die having never felt and for that we are truly thankful. For that reason, we cannot wait to come back and start all over again (and blag them all to help us again as well!)
So, now if I’m asked what I’d do if I won the lottery, my instant thought is “charity”. I’ve loved actually DOING charity work. I’ve loved the hands on nature of seeing a problem and fixing it. I’ve loved how someone’s feeling of despair can be so quickly changed to that of hope if you are there to help them believe that there is something worth hoping for. I’ve loved being greeted with real authentic ear to ear smiles, with no hidden agendas. I’ve loved feeling part of a community that I could never have even dreamed about a year ago.
Above all, I’ve loved doing something constructive and rewarding with my down time. I’m also so happy that I’ve found a girl to do it with me – the love of my life. We’ll be married by the time we return to Zimbabwe this winter, and I can’t see our love affair with Zimbabwe and its people fading any more than I can see that same love between us as a couple fading either.
We haven’t booked when we’ll be returning yet. It was due to be around Xmas time, but its looking more likely in January again… watch this space!
If you want to help us to help the Orphans and underprivileged children of Zimbabwe, please feel free to donate here. ALL your donations are going directly to those that need it. If you are new to the blog, please read this and you will see what we are up against and why we need your help.
Basically, on the 20th March, this person’s credit card (either with their knowledge or otherwise) made a donation to our Orphanage Fund in Zimbabwe to the massive tune of €5… Yes, FIVE euros.
That amount has now been disputed and the €5 has been returned. Its only €5, so no big deal there I suppose, they maybe changed their mind? Its unlikely that they had their card stolen and someone donated to charity on their behalf, though, right?
Either way its a payment thats been returned… So then imagine my horror to find that GoFundMe have then charged our Orphanage charity fund €15 in “fees” for having the charge refunded??
They have taken €15 of donations made by YOU towards our Orphanage fund because someone has changed their minds about being able to afford €5 for those less well off than themselves.
So basically, by the power of Facebook, can you please share this post so that we can find the correct “Christian Soriano” so the I can please implore him to drop the dispute so that this €15 isn’t taken from those that need it most. I am happy to personally refund the €5 if thats what is needed, but please don’t allow GoFundMe to penalise the children as a result of it…
So, does anyone know anyone by that name? Can we find him? Can you tag him to see if he can read this and get in touch?
It almost feels surreal to think that under 2 months ago, we’d never even set foot in Africa, let alone could have imagined how much we’d feel so at home there. It also feels surreal to imagine how much we have come to care about people who were strangers to us those same 2 months ago. Quite how we’ve got here, and how we have travelled on this journey is an absolute privilege; and I know I speak for both of us in that. To feel the warmth and friendship from a group of children who had been given so little, but have so much to give was a tearful, emotional rollercoaster of an experience and one I wouldn’t swap for the world. Making the friends we have along the way is also an absolute privilege.
So, how was our final day in Zimbabwe? Hectic.
We imagined that we might have a few moments in the mid afternoon where we’d be able to chill for a moment, but that proved impossible. We thought we’d be able to get a semi-decent nights sleep before our 40hour journey via 6 flights and 4 different countries, but that, too, proved allusive. But what we did manage to do was to pack our final day with so many memorable moments that I don’t think this blog will ever be able to do it all justice. I know what you are probably thinking: “Yeah yeah, it can’t have been like that really” but it was and its hard to put it all into words even though I’m going to try.
Our final day began relatively late at 9am, and we headed straight into town to pick up a few last minute items for the orphanage and to drop the books off with Great Hood Academy. We’d had them since last week but we fell victim of Zimbabwe’s schools having half days on Fridays and we missed our chance that day so had to wait until after the weekend.
“You don’t know how much you have affected the children’s lives, this is amazing”.
Handing over a massive box of books to the headmaster, Mr. Gift Bere, felt like being Santa Claus for the day. He and the teachers knew that this day was coming, just like children do in the days leading up to Christmas, but nothing quite prepares you for how well received a present can be, even if you know for a fact that they want what you have got them.
Wide beaming smiles, hand shakes and even hugs accompanied the introduction of each and every book from its packaging. I never knew that anyone could be so happy to see books like this, but those that have been reading our reports since day one will know just how desperate they have been for them. We could, and definitely should, have gotten the books much earlier in our journey but the sheer scale of the work facing us at the orphanage took over our thoughts since the day we walked in the front door. I wish we’d not left it until the last day, but its just how it happened unfortunately and we feel a little guilty for that.
Every time a new teacher came in to check out the new books, they all had the same emotional look of joy on their faces. This truly is a school where the teachers care and want only the best for the children enrolled with them, and seeing their reactions was confirmation that we’d done a great thing. We’ve only been able to do this with YOUR help though. This donation of books was exactly what we thought we were coming here to do in the first place so it felt amazing to finally help affect children’s lives in such an easy and obvious way, but a way that equates to many months worth of a teachers salary in books. This is what your donations have done and if you have donated, you should feel proud. If you haven’t yet, then its never too late as we are committed to returning as soon as we can, and we are also committed to buying some new sports equipment for them (remotely after leaving) in the coming weeks too. So your donations WILL still have an effect.
After saying our tearful goodbyes to the teachers and hearing so many kind words from them about what we have done, it was time to say goodbye to the children too. This is where the first of the truly eye-opening moments of our final day happened and one I’ll try my best to convey here.
“Do you want to say goodbye to the children?” Mr Bere asked.
“Of course” replied Nicole.
Secretly though, I was looking at the clock and wondering if we had time. I was also worried and wondering if they would actually really care that much to want to say goodbye or if we’d done the important farewell’s with the teachers and the children might have just been oblivious to us leaving. I am so so happy to say that I was massively wrong. I was wasn’t expecting what happened, and not just with one class or a certain few children, but with them ALL.
When you receive a hug, its really a quite intimate thing, isn’t it? Well, if its done right it is meant to be anyway. Of course, you can also do the emotionless, looking away as you do it and making it as quick as possible type of hug too, but we’re not talking about those kinds of hugs. These children are too young to know that kind. So when they hug you, it really means something. But when the ALL hug you, all at the same time the feeling is absolutely amazing and one that I knew I’d have difficulty in describing when it came to it here today. They know why we were at their school. They also know that we are doing it by way of no charity, nor church group, just two people wanting to help make the world a better place in whatever small way we can. Reacting to that when you are child doesn’t need words when 100’s of hugs are more than capable of doing all the talking you need.
“Can I give you a hug?” said the first child.
I thought it was just a particularly keen, maybe slightly odd student who liked to give hugs. Honestly, I was like “ok, sure” and didn’t think much of it, but then everyone got up. Many then piled into a group hug, others waited until it was over and then came for an individual hug, some even came back for 2nd and 3rd attempts. I really wasn’t ready for how that’d make me feel. I felt so proud that our small efforts and a bit of our time created such a feeling of warmth and affection in them. It just goes to show that all children want in their lives is your time and best efforts and they reward you with unconditional love. I’ve never before felt how I felt at that moment, and it was a feeling that was repeated as we went from class room to class room.
It was like there was a memo out and that they had all read it that morning or something, but of course this must be more of a local custom than anything else. Saying goodbye and thank you with honest affection .
They all wanted to hug us and to wish us well on our journey home and to tell us that they couldn’t wait for us to return. Nicole spent a whole extra day at the school with the kids whilst I was in Harare shopping for building materials, so I was expecting to see her get even more attention than I was getting, and I wasn’t wrong. My own group hug had only just petered out when I was able to get to my camera and take a photo of her here:
Pictures, as the say, speak a thousand words and you can see in their faces (and Nicole’s) how much happiness and emotion was in the room at that very moment.
With that, we left Great Hood Academy for the final time and to collect a few things in town ready for our proposed meal with the orphans at Tariro Orphanage that evening. We’ll be back, of course, and we’ll stay in touch with all the teachers in the coming months too. We can’t wait to hear how they are all getting on with the new text books and will keep on blogging as and when we get more information. I’d love to see exam results up on last year after our small input.
Making our way to the local take away to collect 60 pieces of chicken, 2 portions of fries and 12 litre of soft drink we were a mix of anticipation and trepidation. We so wanted our last day with the children to be special, but also didn’t want it to be a sad day for them with us leaving. We didn’t want them to feel abandoned by us, or that we were just another group of people that were leaving them. That’s been the biggest fear for us this whole time. How do we get involved, without them becoming dependent on us? I don’t mean dependent like they don’t have milk unless we deliver it to them, but dependent emotionally. We were acutely aware that every single one of these children had felt extreme loss of one kind or another and we desperately didn’t want to add to that.
Despite our best efforts though, we couldn’t help but fall in love with them all and have spent more time with them than with anyone else. These last 2 weeks or so, though, we’ve consciously decided to ration out our time with them to cut down any potential of it feeling that we suddenly just don’t show up anymore.
Anyways, we decided we’d try to recreate market & restaurant our day out with them a little bit and brought them fried chicken. It went down such a storm last time that we were sure that it would be a sure fire hit again. It wasn’t.
We’d asked for the house mother to not cook for them that night as we had a surprise, but dirty pots in the kitchen and full bellies told a different story. She was adament that they hadn’t eaten yet, but the faces of children don’t lie… and they seemed to be saying: “we’re stuffed from dinner and can’t possibly eat another thing but we’ll try”… What a disaster! Still, we saw the funny side after the first initial few minutes. Same thing happened with the tray of cakes we’d brought them… A look of delight, followed by one of: “Where am I going to fit all that into by belly now!?”
So, dinner wasn’t what we’d hoped it would be and to top it off, the 3 youngest ones all had a chesty cough. Thomas in particular seemed to be on the receiving end of some serious flu like symptoms. We brought medicine for them all, but it still meant that he wasn’t in the mood to play. He simply sat on my lap in silence as I stroked his head and hugged him. He stayed like that for most of the evening. I tried to make him laugh, but he remained virtually expressionless. Its such a shame that this had to be our last day together after all the fun we’ve had these last few weeks. He loved to sit on my shoulders, or play tickle chase round the house and garden for hours, but today he just sat there looking sorry for himself as he coughed and coughed. Poor little fella.
In the end, he fell asleep on me and we had to put him to bed early.
I wasn’t able to actually say goodbye to him properly. I waved and he waved as he was carried to the bedroom, but it didn’t feel like a real goodbye. I wanted a hug or something, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe it’s better this way. It doesn’t feel like it was right at that moment, but maybe its better for him to not fully understand that I’m going away and won’t be back for a long time. I’ve become so used to him coming running to me to be picked up into my arms every day as we arrive, that I hope that he doesn’t miss me too much when I’m gone. I hope that he’s not quite old enough to fully understand what is happening and that one day will blur into the next until I’m back again.
I will miss him though. I’ll miss his laugh and his smile and I wish I could take him with us. I never knew I could feel this way about anyone. I suppose it’s the feeling I’ll have when Nicole and I have our own children. Its an addictive feeling, though, that’s for sure, and one I feel privileged to have felt for all the children of Tariro, but particularly Thomas. Writing these feelings down here right now as I’m sat on the plane back to Madrid, its making me well up. I didn’t think that this would happen to me, even though Nicole worried that she’d feel like this after we left.
With Macdaniel & Thomas all in bed early to try and sleep off their sickness, we presented the house with our final gift. We hoped it would go down better than the food, but we couldn’t imagine exactly how well! It was like all their Christmas’ had come at once.
We reminded them, through Mrs. Magama who’d come to help us translate, that we’d been taking photos ever since first stepped foot in the orphanage. Quite what they thought about us doing this is another matter, but it wasn’t lost on them that we’d been taking photos for nearly 6 weeks now. They don’t really have a clue about the blog, so they didn’t really know what the photos we for. So they were absolutely delighted when we presented to them a picture frame with around 20 different photos of them all that we’d selected. Producing that picture frame was like setting off a bomb in the house. They crowded round the frame and couldn’t get enough of it as they laughed and pointed at themselves. I took a few photos of them as they looked, and as it was quite dark in the room at the time, I put the flash on and as it went off, they all looked in my direction and laughed at me taking yet more photos! I’d have to say that this was the best group reaction of any we’ve had since we arrived.
They told us that they now have a home that they can be proud of, sleep in beds that they can get a good nights sleep in and feel part of a family again, not just a collection of children nobody wants. All of this deserved to be commemorated and through the photos we could see that they were all now happy, perhaps for the first times in their lives and its all down to the donations we’ve received and put into action. In that moment, they could see all the happy moments they’d had and that we’d captured, and live them again. It will also give us the chance to not be forgotten. We are in some of the photos too, so hopefully this will help the younger children to remember something of us so that we are not strangers when we come back.
We also brought them some new shelves for each and every one of the children. A space to call their own and stack their own clothes, books, toys etc… They are moveable and will follow them to their next home (more to be revealed about that at a later date). The girls also particularly liked it that I was able to bring them a mirror for their bedroom for the first time too. They’d never had a mirror before and now they have one in their room so they can look their best each and every day.
Finally, it came time to say goodbye to the children. We wanted to leave on a high, so chose only a few minutes after the picture frame was revealed to make our exit. They decided to sing us not one, but two songs. One in broken English, and one in Shona. I had a smile from ear to ear, firstly entertained by them, then touched by the whole situation. That smile soon became very difficult to maintain as I realised that this would be the last time we’d see them for a while and realising the love that was behind those songs for us. I looked at Nicole and she looked at me and we exchanged a moment that didn’t require words to explain how we felt. They have said that we’ve come in and changed their lives, that we have given them a life, but in actual fact it’s a two way street. They have changed us and how we see the world. They have changed us and how we see ourselves. They have made us want to become better people and whether they realise it or not, we have only them to thank for it.
Zimbabwe has changed us forever and we’ll never be the same again. We can’t wait to come back and see everyone again. Our friends, the children, the teachers, everyone. All have played an amazing part in our journey and going back to work next week isn’t at all what I’m looking forward to be doing, but that’s life. The summer is on its way and the work that allows us to have half the year off so we can do these kinds of things is about to start again for another season. Zimbabwe will be on our minds, though, and we’ll be back.
Finally, thanks to you for reading, thank you for following, thank you for donating and thank you for your support these 2 months through thick and thin. This isn’t the last post, but it’s the last one written while still away. So watch this space. Until then, please if you would like to donate, here is where you click to do it. ALL money given goes to these children, NOTHING goes to middlemen or management. If you’d like to help, its only click away.
“While Nathan was getting the last bits for our orphanage wish list to be completed I sat with Hildar, the house mother, and chatted for a while. She said the kids pray for us every day and they will really miss us. I tried to explain how much each and every one of them has changed the way we look at things and how we are, so I think in all fareness we got a lot out of these 7 weeks too.
For me, it was looking outside my bubble. The amount these kids had gone through and the fact they still have love to give is amazing. I also explained that they were our first priority and we will continue to stay in touch. I told her that Monday was to be our last day and the sadness on her face made me see how much we are going to be missed.
I felt like MacDaniel could sense something was happening and he wouldn’t leave my side. Every time I got up he would follow me. He finally fell asleep on me he was taken to bed. Thomas wasn’t himself either. He was ill, coughing a lot and also fell asleep on Nathan. It was a sad way to have to say our final goodbyes.
Mrs Magama came with us and she hugged me to say goodbye and I could feel her getting emotional. With that, tears came streaming down my face as well. I didn’t want to cry in front of the children; I didn’t think it was fair, but then they each have me a hug and I kissed each and every one of them and told them I wouldn’t forget them. One of the older girls hung on to me and was crying into my shoulder. I said to her be good and I promised that we’d be back.
I think when first arriving I thought we would get to know these kids and care for them but it’s so much more than that now for me. I love each one of them with their crazy fun happy selves. I went through all my pictures and videos I had taken of them all and we sat for hours going through them. They were all talking and laughing and joking around about them. Of course, I have no idea what they were saying, but all the same it was nice to have a great day with them all and when we presented them with the picture frame they could see some of those same pics and they loved it. They sang us a song and it was overwhelming. They gave us a little gift from them all, but to be honest the gift was us getting to know them . It was time to say goodbye, or as I like to say “See you later”. Goodbye seems so official, and with that MacDaniel came out of his bed room and wanted me to pick him up one last time. That was the hardest thing I have had to do. It was almost like the very first day all over again.
What an amazing experience it has truly been and its something that will stay with us forever.
If you want to donate for the the children’ on going care, please click here to donate.”
We’ve had a hectic few days trying our hardest to get everything done that we’d planned. It seems like its all been left last minute, but I suppose thats how it always is. I guess if we had another week, we’d only find more things to do after all this lot and then that would be rushed too…
Our last post said that we’d be putting up the curtains and then posting pics of them after that, but we are still putting them up even today. A few were accidentally stitched the wrong way round so needed to be picked apart and done all over again. Thats being done as we speak. That said, the majority of them are up now and the house loves them. The rooms are now dark when they want it to be, they stop the outside from seeing in and seeing all their new expensive items that we’ve bought them and the children are getting an even better nights sleep with the darkness too. All in all, we are really happy with the effect that they are having on the house 🙂
We’ve also been able to source them new sofas. Finally!! We had to get them from Chegutu in the neighbouring town, but 6 weeks after putting it on our list, its finally happened. In a country where nothing seems to be thrown away and there is so much use of old/reclaimed items, we honestly thought that there would be a dearth of 2nd hand shops and items for sale, but there really isn’t. We found that really odd, and thats why its taken so long but the smiles on their faces when they saw the new sofa was all worth it. We’ve been sitting on (by that I mean falling through) the old sofas for weeks now and can imagine what it will mean now to live in comfort for the first time!
John, as ever, helped with the sofas. Not sure what we’d have done these last few weeks without him.
We also brought them a carpet for the living room. A thick, comfortable carpet that made the kids want to lay down on it like it was a bed! We don’t usually have carpets in Spain, but certainly in England, these are commonplace. Seeing their reaction to such a thing though was priceless.
First comfortable beds, now comfortable sofas and even a carpet… basic desires really, but ones we all too often take for granted.
The carpenter working on the new classroom for Robin Hood has now finished his work. It took 2 1/2 days to put up the basic wooden frame and its roof and although it needs a floor putting in (something we’d overlooked on the original quote) it won’t be long until the first children will be in there with the new books that we donated to the school today.
Up until today, there were some subjects that simply could not be taught as there was no learning materials to work from. That is now no longer the case and classes will be fully equipped to make the most of the children’s time at school We are looking forward to the results.
The plumbers there have also gotten under way to fit the new water pump and pipes so that water will always flow to the school building and its toilet facilities. Its a lot more work than we anticipated, but it should be finished by Monday, ready for the start of the new week. Its been a pleasure to see this happen and to help in this way.
Liz Oglibie from Robin Hood Pre-School donated some new chairs for the smallest children at the Orphanage too. The under 5’s usually just sit on the floor, but now they have their own chairs and they love them. She also gave us some books to take to Great Hood Academy too. Its wonderful to see how everyone we’ve worked with and met are coming together to help each other through us. Perhaps it would have happened anyway, but certainly its not harmed having us here as a catalyst.
The new books for Great Hood arrived this week too along with some donation materials from CPS Publishing House. Maybe I was being cheeky by asking, but I pointed out that we were here doing charity work and would they be able to give us something for free if we spent enough. They put in some brand new reading books for the children and we can’t wait to show the children of Great Hood on Monday morning.
And with that, this ends just about my shortest ever blog post… I’ll just leave you with some pictures of the the children, with us of course, on their new sofa. The smiles say it all! I’ll also post the link to DONATE HERE for the ongoing care and provision for the children of the Tariro Orphanage. We’ll be back and we’ll continue our work with them for as long as we are able and as long as there are funds. Thank you for all your support and help so far.
P.S. Anyone reading this that would like to join us for a drink tonight at Campbell Theatre from 6pm for our farewell party are more than welcome. 🙂
It feels like an age since we last reported what has been happening here in Zimbabwe.
We have positive news and not so positive news to report.
We have been hard at work, but as anyone who has visited this amazing country will tell you, its also incredibly social too. When we first arrived we threw ourselves into work each day at 6am and got home sometime in the evening and then I’d invariably sit for 4 hours composing the blog that you are reading now. That, as you can imagine, would mean it was all work and very little play. Not that we are complaining of course, we came here to do something good and help people after all, not go out on the piss and sunbathe.
But since those early days, we have met some amazing, friendly and welcoming people. That means we’ve been invited round for dinners, for drinks, to play bowls, go to see wild lions and zebras and giraffes… So while we’ve been working each and every day, where possible, our reporting has taken a back seat and I’ve been feeling really guilty about it.
Every day I’ve been saying to everyone “I must do a blog today. People are going to think we’ve stopped or something…” Plus, we only have a few days left and these blogs are a great connection to the world and what we are up to and we wanted to keep that up. The response has been phenomenal to it all. Much, much bigger than I could have ever expected when I first said about it to Nicole at Jo’berg airport over a month ago. At first we were made up with having 50 readers in a day after the first week, but then when that passed into the 1000’s of daily readers we were stunned.
So, here I am trying my hardest to condense the past 6 or so days all into one blog post and I hope I do those days some justice although I’ll try to keep it as short as I can as we are super busy today…
Since the last post (where we delivered a new fridge-freezer and some furniture to the orphanage) we have been back a number of times, but still tried to limit it where possible as we don’t want the children to become over dependent on us being there. When we leave, we don’t want to be yet another gapping hole in their lives where people come and go all the time and there is no consistency. Still, we do have things to do to carry on improve their living conditions before we leave and we do love spending time with the kids so its hard to stay away too much.
On Friday last week we went to take Makanaka a new play blanket. Normally she’d only been left to entertain herself on the carpet, bed, or even on the concrete floor. Our first few visits to the house showed us that there was very little in the way of entertainment for a baby of her age, and although on occasions she’d be picked up by which ever child was interested at that moment, she was invariably left alone most of the time. These moments were also important to note that she showed very little response to calling her name, or any other way of trying to get her attention. Moving on just a month from then, she is bright, bubbly and always smiling. The change in her diet (milk and formula has now replaced a lot of the adult food she’d been eating) has taken effect, so has being able to sleep in her own cot and the change in mood around the house. She is now played with even more than ever and for those moments that she is not, we got her this:
She loves it. I wondered if she’d just lie there and do nothing different; as if the rattles and play things were not even there. The very first moment that I lay her down, though, her hands went straight for the toys and she has loved every minute of it since!
Our good neighbour Kylie (and her two enthusiastic children) also came along and brought a massive box of clothes for the smallest children. All were high quality, preloved items and fit the youngest 5-6 children perfectly. It was like Christmas had come early. We managed to get some great shots of the kids trying on their new clothes. Thomas, in particular, seems to have his pose down to a T.
I was also able to use this time to finish changing the locks on the back door to the house. It had previously only been able to be locked from the inside, and that meant leaving the house open to anyone to come in if everyone was out. I’d never considered theft or burglary to be something that could happen to an orphanage, but I suddenly realised that with doors unlocked most of the time, and no security lights outside, this house could become an easy target for those that do not care who they are stealing from. After all, no other house in the area probably even has a gas oven like theirs, nor a brand new fridge-freezer. The fear dawned on me that we’d made the house a target and I hoped that that fear is never realised into reality.
Thats why it came as a HUGE shock to find out that the house had been subject to theft. But not from outside forces, but from within. In a previous blog, I described how a new boy had been brought to the house. His name was Tanaka and he was 14 years old. This is more or less all we knew of him other than he claimed to have been recently orphaned when is father and grandmother had passed away after his mother had abandoned him as a child. He was, of course, taken in and given a bed, food and care.
This is what we are trying to do here, after all. To provide a home for children that would be dead on the streets otherwise.
The police had found him, and passed him on to Tariro Orphanage. He was going through the processes of finding out if he had family who could care for him directly. We were also looking to see if, how and when to get him into a local school so that he could receive an education (our original goal here). It was during these checks that it was discovered that he was in fact 18 years old. The rest of his story may or may not be true, but certainly he was lying about his age and therefore his eligibility to be given a home in an orphanage for children. Provisions were being made to relocate him and help him in other ways, but in the middle of the night one day last week, he took it upon himself to steal many of the items of clothing we’d bought the other children at the market, some money that had been given to one of the boys for his birthday and some food. He has never been seen since.
He helped me painting on the very first day and I felt his english was good at times, but seemed to be poor when I asked serious questions. I now know why. Nicole also felt that there was something off about him from early on. I just thought he was very confident for a 14 year old child, and with an extra 4 years under his belt its easy to see why he was as he was. We did speak about taking him out, as we had with all the other children, and buying him some new clothes and school uniforms but decided to wait until it was decided one way or the other if he was staying permanently or not. We’re happy that we took that decision now as his deception, while understandable for a desperate homeless person, took advantage of us all, including the children who thought he was their friend.
Now, obviously this is a massive set back both in house moral terms, but also in terms of trust. We remain unaffected by it and our commitment to what we are doing for the orphanage is unwavering, but we do worry that the other children are going to find it hard to trust new people again after this. It took them time to open up to us and we don’t want that process to be permanently closed to other people. They have so much love to give and we’d hate for them to believe that other people cannot be trusted.
We are now in two minds. Do we replace the clothes that were stolen or let them put it down to a (cruel) life lesson? Do we replace the money stolen, or will it be a way to teach them how to keep things safe from thieves… We are really unsure as to the best way to go about it all and comments and thoughts would be appreciated.
If, however, you’d like to personally buy one of the children clothes to replace what was stolen, it will cost €20 per child and you can do that here. I believe 3 children were affected. You’ll be kept in direct contact with us as we go with them and can see what your money has bought them.
All that negative feeling, however, wasn’t going to stop us doing what we came here to do. So Nicole and I have been hard at work getting the curtains ready to be put up later today (hopefully) that will transform every room in the house into something clean and modern. Its only a simple thing really, but its enough to make you walk in each room and think “wow, what a difference”. We’ll only be putting those pics up tomorrow though as Nicole is just putting the finishing touches to them now and then we’ll be out all day fitting them and taking the children some more things for the house. Its taken 3 days of cutting and sewing though, so this has taken up a massive chunk of our time.
We’ve also been back to both Great Hood Academy and Robin Hood Pre-School to carry on our work there. We initially intended on coming to Zimbabwe to help out with schools, buying books, improving education facilities etc. This is what our first week consisted of and what we were focused on. It was only as we came to fully understand the poverty experienced by the children of Tariro, that our focus changed to helping the orphans as much as we could. I think you’ll agree that we’ve done a huge amount for the orphanage, so we took time to go back to the schools and see how we could implement the changes that we’d spoken about at the very start of our trip.
Headmaster Gift Bere looks through the books we’d brought him and the list to order more so that the school could function perfectly.
It was at this moment that we pulled the trigger on buying a whole range of new school books for Great Hood. We’d be immensely impressed with the quality of the teaching there and we saw how much the teachers cared about their students. All that was lacking was enough text books to make everything as good as it could be. This week, we took the list of books that had been provided to us by Consultus Publishing Services, and let the teachers choose whatever books they needed to make their lives easier. Text books in English & Shona were chosen ranging from Early Child Development classes all the way up to grade 7. We were also delighted to leave them with some early samples that had been provided to us to start work with right away. Seeing the teachers smile from ear to ear at the thought of being able to provide a better lesson was inspiring and really hit home how much they cared about their classes and the quality of their teaching. Receipt of funds has been given and now books will arrive tomorrow ready for collection. We’ll report on that as soon as we have them in our possession. 🙂
Robin Hood Pre-School is run by Miss Liz Oglibie (or Miss O to those in the know). She’s a dedicated lady who’s entire life has been dedicated to other peoples children and that hasn’t changed even into her 70’s. We first came across here by way of a recommendation from a previous pupil and we were happy that we did. Her small school is run out of her own home (with classrooms added onto the side and into the garden) and was running the risk of running out of space for the children that she has. She also had the unenviable problem of intermittent running water and having to cope with a school full of children wanting to use the toilet and wash their hands. As I’m sure you can imagine, its not the easiest thing to keep children and the bathrooms they are using clean and hygienic without running water a lot of the time. We here in Eiffel Flats have water so infrequently that our lives revolve around buckets of rain water that can be gathered to wash and brush our teeth with. So the thought of running a school in the same conditions beggars belief.
So with these two pressing problems in mind, we’ve started the construction of a new classroom and purchased all the materials needed to install a new water pump. The new classroom will be a wooden lean-to construction next to an outhouse in the garden. It should provide a teaching space for a 15 children and a teacher. We were very impressed with the plans and the cost of the construction too. So much so that we’ve commissioned the same carpenter to build us some shelves for the orphanage. The plan is to make 5 shelving units for each bunk bed. So each unit will have 3 shelves on it, and each shelf then belongs to the corresponding bunk. Ideally, these will remain a pair forever and will follow the beds to their new home. Finally the children will have somewhere to store their things other than in a pile on the floor!
The carpenter says that the extra classroom will be finished by Friday and the shelves for Monday. Cutting it fine seeing as we leave on Tuesday, but that always seems to be the way with everything, no?
As always, if you feel that what we are doing here deserves to be helped, please donate by clicking here. Every penny will go to help those in need. No middle men, no managers wages, no scammers.
In other news, people have been asking how our injuries have healed. I still have a red eyeball that shows little sign of leaving, although its not as bad as at first, and still have two relatively noticeable black eyes, although they’ll be gone by the this time next week I think. Nicole, on the other hand, still isn’t able to fully walk and the cuts to her foot still look nasty and are painful. It may well be a while until she is back to normal. Thanks for all your concern and messages. We’ve also been attacked by sand fleas again… My god are they the worst!
We’ll be having a farewell party here in Kadoma on Saturday at the Campbell Theatre bar on Saturday evening, 4th March from 6pm. There will be food and plenty of drinks. Anyone and everyone who has read this blog this past month is encouraged to come and say hello (and goodbye) as well as all our now future lifelong friends we’ve met since being here. We’ll be sad to leave, but we’ll be back sooner rather than later (we are looking at December ’17). We still have work to do and will carry on what we’ve started here then.
We also hope to see as many of you as possible at our Welcome Home Party on Thursday the 9th March in Ibiza, so that we can tell you all in person about our trip and how much your donations and support has meant to us.
Its been a few days since our last update and thats down to a few reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, Nicole has not been feeling up to her usual bouncing hyper self due to her injuries not healing as they should. Secondly, we had a bit of down time at the weekend took a well needed break.
Those that know us, know that Nicole has a stomach ulcer which resulted in her being admitted to hospital for a week nearly a year ago. Unable to eat or drink anything without vomiting, we were really worried and had no idea what it could have been. This is an on going problem and it flared up on again on Sunday through to Monday leaving Nicole tired, weak and unable to keep anything down at all. Luckily we have medication to treat it now, so we were able to avoid yet another hospital visit. Still, its not exactly ideal when time is running out and Nicole so desperately wants to be there for every moment with the kids.
Then on Tuesday it was time for her stitches to come out and that hopefully meant that she’d be able to walk sooner rather than later. This, unfortunately, wasn’t the case. Her wounds still hadn’t healed properly and new butterfly stitches were put in place. All told, its been a hard few days if we’re honest. She’s still hobbling around, but its harder than ever to get things done.
That said, whilst she’s been resting up, I’ve managed to get a few things done at the house over the last few days.
First up was the long awaited addition of a full family sized fridge freezer in the house! You wouldn’t believe the excitement that his brought about, but it certainly brought a smile to our faces seeing their faces light up at the sight of it. We’d had this on our list for a while, but we’d been trying in vain to get a good quality 2nd hand one without any luck, so finally had to stump up the cash from our donations money to pay for it. We tried our best to get the most for the money and are happy with the one that we eventually found. They certainly love it.
Once again, John Kinnaird came to help like a knight in shining armour and his pick up truck. Not sure where we’d be if he’d not been around to help us since we got here. At first we, obviously, wanted to put their brand new kitchen appliance in the kitchen. I mean, where else would it go, right?
Apparently the living room… as far away from the kitchen as possible was the best location for it. We have no idea if this is meant as a status symbol so that neighbours can come in, see it and sit in awe at its amazingness, but either way thats where it is now and his pride of place in the house.
Other bits and pieces have been ticked off of our to do list this week too. Seemingly small things, but essential to day to day life to the children. They had, I’m not sure if I’d already said in a previous blog post, been living with only 3 working lightbulbs in the house (inside and out) and as soon as the sun would set, the main rooms were plunged into darkness. So, we’ve gone out and provided them with a full set of bulbs. We’ve also had a local electrician come in today and plough through a ton of things like: replace the plug on the old fridge so that it works properly, replace the bare wires with actual plug sockets in both of the bedrooms, replace a light socket that had been broken, replace both exterior lights with low cost LED bulbs and replace the rear door lock so that it finally works too.
We were also able to provide the house with some more pillows, pillow cases, mosquito nets, cloths, oven mits, rugs and this adorable chair for baby Makanaka.
Oh, and I bought everyone cupcakes from the bakery too.
Finally, this week is the first week that Martha has stepped in to help Hildar, the house mother, with looking after the children, showing her how to cook, clean and discipline the children in the correct manner. Certainly the place has appeared much much cleaner these past few days and the fly problem seems to have been vastly reduced. We hope to keep her on in a semi permanent capacity so that the children can get the care and attention that they need. These last few weeks have been truly amazing seeing how the children have opened up like flowers in spring. The youngest ones especially no longer look sad and distressed, but happy and smiling. This is how all children should be, no? Or at least how all children should have the possibility of being anyway. We don’t like to think that anything we are doing is pointless, that the changes we are making will have no affect. We KNOW that what we have done has had an impact already and its only been 5 weeks. We intend to carry on working with the children of Tariro and we intend to do all that we can to never let them down and to never let them suffer through lack of opportunities.
The boys room. Top image: The day we arrived around a month ago. Bottom image, last week. Spot the difference. 🙂
The girls room. Top image: The day we arrived around a month ago. Bottom image, last week. Spot the difference. 🙂
All in all, a satisfying day even if its one that Nicole wasn’t able to enjoy as she stay’s off her feet.
“So, what have you guys got planned for the rest of the week?”
“Well, we’re finally installing the bunk beds at the orphanage. Wanna come give us a hand putting them together, it won’t take long and you’ll get to meet the kids too.” I said.
What Kyle, Andrew & Duncan didn’t know, and me either to be fair, was that it would need 9 hours spread over 2 days, an angle grinder, welding kit, skill to use both of them and plenty of sweat to finally get them into place.
We had them designed, we thought, to perfection, but in reality, the intricate nature of the corridor, and the narrowness of the bedroom doors meant that all the work that we had put in to have them made in the first place, was wasted. We had to take them all apart only to put them back together again in the bedrooms.
Lots of eventful things happened this weekend, but one of the best ones was meeting these guys. Helpful beyond all belief and exactly the right people that we needed to have with us when it came to all the eventual metal work. I’d have had no idea where to even begin. Faced with the real prospect of the bunkbeds having to be left out in the garden for the rest of their lives, Kyle & Co knew exactly what to do. People we’d only just met less than a week before were destined to help when us we needed it most.
Despite trying for the best part of 1/2 and hour, these bed frames never fit through the door.
Cutting the legs off…
I was hoping to give an update with all the photos to go along with it yesterday, but as the job was only half finished I figured it was best to wait until today and show the world what real joy looks like.
The children of Tariro Orphanage have never had their own beds before and we were worried that getting something that they have never had before might be a bit of an anticlimax. After all, how can you look forward to something that you have no experience of? We weren’t to be disappointed though.
Loading up the frames in the industrial estate where we had them made.
Arriving outside the orphanage with a 10tonne truck and lots of frames like an expensive jigsaw puzzle.
As we knocked on the gate post to announce our arrival, they kids, as always, came running to greet us. Only this time it wasn’t just me and Nicole turning up in John’s pick-up and being left with some paints or other bits and pieces. This time we had a 10 tonne lorry overflowing with 15 separate steel bed frames and 15 waterproof mattresses arriving with us, 2 cars and 3 helpers too. I remember walking around town a few weeks ago with 2year old Thomas in my arms and the look of delight as he saw cars going past was a real treat. Now his eyes were wide with wonderment at what this huge orange truck was doing outside his house and what all these black frames were too. He also look confused as he looked at my face and my blood filled eye. He wanted to touch my face, but couldn’t quite bring himself to. As soon as I started tickling him and playing chase though, it was all back to normal and my fears of scaring the kids with our injuries was, in the end, un-founded.
Each frame had its very own code to make sure that it was paired with its partner so that each and every bed was perfect. As soon as we started chopping off legs to get them through the doors, we had to invent a whole new type of code that was different to the first one, to make sure the right leg went on the right frames. Needless to say this all got very confusing and made everyone’s head hurt as we had to search each piece to try and match them all up and by the time we found what we were looking for, we’d forgotten what it was we were meant to remember about why we were looking for it… 🙂
The first two beds took around 5 hours as we worked until after sunset but the end results were amazing. They knew that we were making them beds, but they hadn’t quite grasped how it would all look and had certainly never seen anything like these before. The big reveal was just as we had hoped it would be, and the excitement was palpable in the air. It had taken much longer than we’d hoped, and we could never have done it without our new friends, but all the stress and work was worth it I think you’ll agree.
“I want the top bunk” “No, I want it!” “Erm, I actually really really want it!”
Hamilton has never had a pillow before today. You can see what he thinks about that…
The beds now made up and in use. 🙂
Now with your donations (click here to donate if you haven’t already) we have some more things that we’ll be doing for the kids this week coming. A brand new fridge freezer is on the cards, hopefully some new sofas, new curtains, new rugs perhaps… We don’t have much time left to implement all that we want to, but we’ll try our best.
Finally next week, we’re going to employ a matron for the “House Mother” to learn from. An experienced hand when it comes to showing how to prepare meals that taste different, but using the same ingredients that they already have access to, and to bring in some discipline. I’m also going to be using some of the left over cash to invest in some professional looking charity coin boxes for businesses in Ibiza to display on their bar tops. If you are reading this, own a business in Ibiza (or anywhere really) and you’d like to help in this way, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I’ll certainly be putting them in all my bars knowing that anything put in them will go to the children who most need our help.
Now we’ve finished work for the day (after our 6am start), Nicole has to get her dressings changed and cleaned up ready for a few relaxing drinks in celebration tonight.
Its taken a few more weeks than we expected, but finally our big surprise for the children happened today and they loved it.
Thank you for all your donations; and please keep them coming if you like what you read and see that we are making real differences to these children’s lives. It doesn’t cost much to help, but every penny that you donate goes to them. No middle men, no managers, no staffing costs, just real direct help.
Making these beds happen has been a huge team effort and everyone we have met has helped a little bit, but special thanks need to go to John & Jackie (for everything), Helen (for allowing us to be here in the first place), Graham (for free transport of the mattresses from Harare), Mike & Barry (for the use of the 10 tonne truck), Kyle, Andrew & Duncan (for their amazing problem solving abilities and installation skills), Amanda (for introducing us to Tariro in the first place), Nicola (for lending us her car so we can get around easily), Laury (for driving us around and finding us the welder & steel to make the beds), Mrs. Magama (for helping these children when no one else would).
There are more people involved along the way and my memory is terrible at the best of times (as Nicole will tell you… that is her name, right?) but hopefully this was all the main players in this particular bed making mission.
Now, what should we do for the orphans next week? Suggestions are always welcome. Feel free to comment. 🙂