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.
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.