When asked for the first time (ever) what colour you would like your house to be painted, what do you think the answer is? My personal preference, or idea, would have been for yellow. Summery, bright and warm, yet neutral enough to please everyone. I’d had it as the colour for my living room many years ago when I lived in Nottingham and I really liked it.
So yellow perhaps? Nicole wasn’t so sure, so we asked the children. Blue was the resounding choice. In fact it was unanimous. A little deflated that my option wasnt chosen but all the same happy that democracy had spoken for the first time in a while, we went off to buy the paint. But all of this is jumping the gun a little bit… That was today, and this has been a very very long 2 days of prepping and painting indeed.
It’s great when you see a local community pull together in a crisis. Word has certainly spread as to what it is we are dealing with at Tariro Orphanage and the locals have been helping out left right and centre. A chance meeting at the Rugby in Harare on Saturday with a couple living only one street away from where we have been calling home these last two weeks, and suddenly we have our lifesaving lift from Eiffel Flats (its a village, not high rise block) to Rimuka for the past two mornings at a fresh 7am every morning. Not to mention the lift back at 5pm when we are done, numerous bits of ferrying around here there and every where and even some steel we’ll be using in the next batch of bunkbeds! We’ve also received some free paint brushes and rollers from a local merchant as he knew we were there to help the community. 🙂
On day 12, after a visit to see how the tweaks were going with the bunkbeds, we went in all guns blazing expecting it to be plain sailing and realise quite quickly that the building is rotten with rising damp. What we thought were stains owing to over use by 16 dirty fingers children, was in fact the result of band workmanship when the house was originally built. As soon I as started to clear away some of the loose plaster (on the only part of he house that has any, the rest is bare concrete) I knew we’d be in for a tough day. Proper damp courses take time and money and although we have your donations, and we are here for another 5 weeks, there are better things that we can be spending that money on. After all, these kids could be moving on to pastures new shortly… No one is really sure as this is the kids 3rd home after being evicted from their previous two.
So, after scraping and brushing, brushing and scraping for an entire morning, we were just about as close to a surface that could cope to be painted as we could get. I’m not entirely sure how long it will last, but we’d at least started. An entire 10 hour day was spent and what we’d been left with was a patchy, white (ish) uneven living room. I’d loved to have been able to take a photo of it all and for it to look impressive, but frankly I felt like we’d done so much work for so little visible reward. I was a knackered and a bit gutted if I’m honest. I did, however, understand that this was just the undercoat and the big changes were to take until the end of today. I just had to constantly remind myself that as we sat back at 4.55pm to observe our days work.
The children were on usual top form that day, wanting constant attention and we tried our best to give it to them all the while attempting to get their living space looking top notch. I had considered asking the older boys if they’d be interested in earning a few extra $ or just to help out as we’d come to help them out but I decided in the end that I’d want to show them what we were about by doing it ourselves and see what happened. The change in them was small at first and then bigger and more obvious and it was very interesting to watch.
Day 12 started with just me and Nicole doing our previously explained scrape and brushathon all morning, but then there started to be a bit of a buzz around the place in the afternoon. Not in the living room where we were, but in the other rooms. As if inspired by our all action, not just talk, approach they’d taken it upon themselves to give the entire house a spring clean. I have to admit that this made me feel really proud for them to have taken the initiative on that. Its as if they’d thought to themselves: “Well, if they have seen something in us to make our place look nice, we should take pride in it ourselves too”.
The kitchen, both bedrooms, the hall… everything got a once over. Sat there with your Dyson in the cupboard, various sprays, mops, cloths and brushes here there and everywhere I’m sure you’re thinking: “Big deal, they cleaned the house”. But this is virtually leaderless, parentless group of children with no running water, no mop, not even a dust pan and brush let alone a vacuum, that decided to clean their own house and they own rooms with their bare hands and a with only a collection of sticks bound together as a makeshift brush. We’d purposefully stood back and let them do their own thing just to see what they’d do. If this was a test, they’d have easily passed. I was hoping that they’d react, and they did. Its nothing compared to what happened on Day 13, but we’ll come to that.
As our day drew to a close, we had a few moments of downtime and Nicole spend those minutes playing with the youngest children, reading books and teaching them to count in english. Whatever she did that afternoon stuck as the next day even Macdaniel, at less than 2 years old, could count to 5 in english when he didn’t have the foggiest the day before. This is the thing with these kids. There is so much untapped potential that in another world, or another time, Macdaniel could be getting a scholarship to university in 16 years time, but in this one we are just trying our hardest to get him enough food to eat. Its a sad state to be in and its upsetting to think that they could have a wasted education through lack of funds, or being more concerned with where the next meal is coming from to even think about school properly. This, however, is exactly why we came here in the first place; to help those who cannot help themselves, and to give opportunities in life that otherwise simply would not be available.
While Nicole did her thing with the books and the toddlers I was invited to play football with the older kids. My initiation into the family was now complete. As any boy will tell you, once you are asked to play, you are sorted. Its the kids that sit on the sidelines and never get invited that feel left out and not one of the gang, so I was made up to be asked to play. To you and I, football means jumpers for goal posts, someone brings a ball and then you play one team against another in whatever team seems the fairest at the time. In Zimbabwe with 3 boys of various ages having to play on some dirt covered in stones behind the locked gate of an orphanage with a deflated ball, however, it meant piggy in the middle. For those that don’t know, this means 3 guys have to keep control of the ball between themselves while the 4th person is in the middle and has to try and get the ball. I’d love to say that I did England/Ibiza proud but in the end I just took my fair share of the time in the middle, but the difference it made to these kids to have someone play with them like this, rather than just amongst themselves, was phenomenal. High fives, laughter, smiles, winks and nods were thrown around between us all and I’d finally been accepted. Perhaps that football family moment has something to do with what happened the next day…
So, the next day, we were again up bright an early and dying to get some colour onto the walls so that it would look different, rather than just a cleaner version of what it did. We were hoping that we’d have the house more or less to ourselves, but the school fee’s haven’t been sorted yet, so there was the strange sight of seeing school children coming back from school at 9am. Sent home because they needed to pay $10 or the school wouldn’t allow them into class.
It feels like some sort of sick joke. Its a $10 fee for the school bus, when some of the children walk to school in the first place! Denying an education from a child until they pay for something they are not even using seems like daylight robbery to me, but all the same your donations will pay for this and every child of school age WILL be going to school on Monday. All fee’s, all uniforms, all school shoes and even rain macs WILL be paid and purchased for every child and then there can be no excuses.
So, at 9am, most of the kids started coming home from school and we were both thinking that it just made our work all the harder having to work around the children when we’d hoped for a clear run to try and get the room finished. This is when the piggy in the middle, and horrendous toe stubbing, bonding session came into play. The oldest boy came in and explained to us about the school bus fee and thats why he’d not been allowed into classes that day despite being there on time and fully dressed in all the required uniform. Rather than turn around and go and play with his brothers, he said he wanted to help. We were a little taken aback at first, we didn’t have overalls for him as such, but Nicole took the decision to allow him to use hers. Suddenly we had an extra pair of willing hands and we were flying through the painting! Before long, painting with us became what everyone wanted to do. We didn’t have enough brushes, rollers or overalls to go around, but they didn’t care. They took it in turns to help, and two particular boys helped pretty much all day after that. We were able to get the hallway done in one day and they’d all seen how we work and taken it on board and joined in themselves. We felt like proud parents yet again!
When it came time to decide the colour we asked the kids to pick a colour. Blue, and dark blue at that was the colour of choice.
“Dark blue will be too dark, and will make it feel really dingy and sad in here”. Nicole tried to explain.
“We want it dark”.
“We’ll get a light blue so it opens up the room and if you don’t like it, we’ll see about a darker blue”.
With a compromise in place (knowing full well that a dark coloured wall would have looked awful) we finally started to change their surroundings. We’ll need another coat tomorrow to attempt to cover the stains that seep through because of the damp, but its basically done for the living room and hall other than that. Next step is the kitchen and the house mother’s 25th Birthday. We’ve got her, by way of our more than helpful neighbours John & Jackie, some earrings and a necklace. We’re sure she’ll love them!
On day 12, Nicole had to rush off to a meeting with the board of directors for Robin Hood Pre-School which we visited on Day 5. We’re trying to help as many places as we can, and they are one of them. Having running water seems like such a basic need, but its not one that is guaranteed here in Zimbabwe and we’re trying to change that for as many kids as possible. We’ll also invest in some better reading books for the children, and perhaps some mats so that the youngest ones can take in well earned naps and be comfortable doing it. Also in the meeting was what seems like an excellent contact to have and an excellent councillor for Rimuka (where the orphanage is) by the name of Exton. Nicole invited him back to the house and we immediately pressed to him the urgency of needing the septic tank emptied. These 16 kids had been without running water or the ability to even flush the toilet for over 2 weeks. He promised he’d have the tank emptied as soon as possible, and we believed him. It felt nice to have that belief pay off as mid afternoon, today day 13, the lorry pulled up and the workers got to work. Finally the septic tank was empty and finally they could use the toilet! Time for celebrations and pats on the back all round, no?
Unfortunately not. It hadn’t been emptied in so long and the system was therefore so backed up that now there was a blockage in the pipes and is still no way to flush the toilet with nowhere that waste and water will go other than into the house. Gutted. A quick call to Exton and he promises that he’ll do what he can to get them to clear it as soon as possible. Again, I believe him so I hope to report back to you all about it as soon as possible. It was, after all, number one on our list of things to do. No child should be forced to live like an animal without toilet facilities. You let your dog out in the garden for a wee, yeah, but you’d still not be happy to see it lay a dump in your garden so why should it be ok to expect that a child should have to do it. We’re on this though, so watch this space.
Nicole has had a super busy few days too:
“As always as soon as the rock hits the steel gate (this is their only “doorbell”) Macdaniel comes running out and screams with excitement. He then hugs my legs and the other little ones come over for hugs too. Little Macdaniel gets so jealous though, with the cutest scrunched up face and disappointed look that anyone else has got a hug instead of him.
Working with paint and being surrounded by children it was a little hard to keep the kids from wanting to play finger paints. Eventually they were interested in what we were doing but also a little confused. I don’t think they had ever seen anyone paint a wall before! We brought some sweets this time and they where all so humble in accepting anything. These kids have had a hard life and they still have such amazing manners and with such big hearts. On day 13 I was chatting to girl who was just visiting the house to see her friends. She’s 14 years old and she was asking me tons of questions; like where am I from, what food I liked, what do I normally eat. She also asked if I had ever eaten Sadza (a ground starchy maize substance that they eat over here every day). I replied ‘yes’ to her amazement. I explained to her what we’re doing here and her response was that she’d never seen any women painting before and that I’m very different to any girl she had met in her life. She just seemed so curious about everything I had to say. I’m not sure she’d ever really met a white European before and thought that eating pasta was extravagant! We’ll be cooking them pasta tomorrow on the gas stove as a birthday meal for Hilda, the house mother, and they can then all see that pasta is as common to us as Sadza is to them!”
And so ends today, and for that matter yesterdays, blog. Its been a hectic few days and there has been more paint splashed on the floors that I’d have liked, but its been great fun. We’ve really been accepted as one of their own now, and have been invited to eat with them too. Its a honour to be there with them each day and its an honour that, even if its once in my life, I’ve had the opportunity to do something like this in the first place. Zimbabwe is changing me, just as its changing Nicole and we’ll never be able to see the world through the same eyes ever again, and for us thats a great thing.
If you want to help us to build a better life for these children, there is still time to get involved. Donate now by clicking here. ALL money goes directly to helping these kids and we are here doing the work ourselves freely and willingly. Your donations can, and will, change these kids lives forever. Thank you everyone!