Round 2, Days 11, 12, 13 & 14. Sabotage, vandalism & disappointment.

We’ve had a really frustrating few days and its made it really hard to even want to sit down and write anything at all. So for that I apologise. I know in my heart that we like to remain as positive as possible at all times, but its been particularly hard this week. Our last blog told of how we’d fixed every leak, every shower and every toilet at Jairos Jiri School for Blind Children. It told of how we’d given the children constant running water for the first time in their memories. We were understandably pretty chuffed with ourselves and proud that we’d put your donations to such good use and I wasn’t shy about saying all about it in the blog either.

Then, when we thought we were not long away from turning around and declaring job well done, we went for the first of MANY final walk arounds to check on everything only to be greeted with problems at every turn. A shower is working at night, but then next day its not. A toilet flushes one morning, but by the afternoon it doesn’t. A water tank fills up with ease one minute, and the next its dry as a bone; and all without a reasonable reason. Not one that we could immediately see anyway. It was a very frustrating time I can tell you!
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We only have 4 weeks here and every day counts, so imagine feeling like you are chasing around after yourself for days on end and wasting those days. Every day we lose, is a day day we haven’t been able to do something to help someone else. We haven’t been able to head back to see Miss O yet and make a start on the classroom we promised to repair for her, for example. We will 100% make that happen, but the fact that its taken this long and we still haven’t gotten around to it yet, is disappointing to say the least.

So, 4 days of chasing our tails and here I am writing about sabotage, vandalism & disappointment… What do I mean by this?
It’s going to be really hard to for me to explain quite how antiquated the plumbing system is at Jairos Jiri, but the original plumbing has been added to and altered an incalculable number of times, and not to its benefit. This is, of course, on top of the fact that this building hasn’t actually been upgraded at all since its original build in 1981. So, it’s a hodge podge of decrepit pipes running in random directions, from well (borehole) water to intermittently supplied government water to irrigation systems for the fields and water tanks competing for limited resources. So, use your imagination to think how frustrating it could be when someone starts sabotaging your best laid plans and you have no idea why or how.
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For example, to get water from the borehole to the girls toilets it has to be dragged up from 50m below ground via an electric pump. This pipe then runs to a T junction where half of it is meant to be pushed into a water tank that is used for irrigation of the allotment that feeds the children on a day to day basis, and the rest is pushed towards another water tank that is then used to service the girls bathrooms. Along this pipework that covers around 200m of ground there are various stop cocks, taps, diverters and valves. When we finally thought we’d finished all the plumbing, and had water running to the bathrooms, imagine coming back the very next day to find no water and all the girls complaining about it to us. We were hoping for a different reaction entirely.

Now we were on a mission to try and find out what had gone wrong. In one day, half of the stop cocks and valves had been closed, the water tank servicing the bathrooms was now empty and we had no idea how, or more to the point, why, this had happened at all. We’d been working with the plumbers for a fair few days solidly moving towards an end product and now we felt like we were being asked to almost start all over again.

So why would the water have been switched off at all?

First thoughts running through our mind was that the staff had been switching it off to conserve water. Short term thoughts going against long term goals perhaps? We are always wary of people we don’t know and who’s interests can not always be clearly defined as running parallel to our own. So before speaking to anyone at the school we ran a series of tests, opening the valves that needed to be opened, and then coming back in a hour or two’s time to see if the had been closed again. Invariably they had.
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After a few days of discussions, accusations, traps and still no consistent water to the girls bathrooms we finally got the bottom of it all… It turns out that the water tank that is being used to irrigate the fields, has been the number one, and ONLY, priority. The minute our backs were turned, the farmer/allotment keeper would switch off as many valves as he could to give him the best water pressure, regardless of if that left the 49 blind children without running water. Needless to say, we were fuming.

It takes 3 hours to fill the 5000 litre tank with the pump switched on, but each day its only on for 1 hour and during that hour the water was constantly being redirected to the fields and the girls were being ignored. Today we put a stop to this. We had to threaten to walk away from everything and stop helping the school out (it was of course a bluff, but one they seemed to believe) if the water wasn’t allowed to flow. We really just hope that we don’t have to go in tomorrow and check and find an empty tank all over again, but it does feel like we’ve turned a corner, finally.
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So, if that was the sabotage, what was the vandalism, then? This time, it was the boys turn; except they were not the victims, but the perpetrators.

If you’ve been following the blog, you will know how bad of a state the boys toilets were in when we first came across them. We’d replaced every toilet cistern, fixed the large steel urinal so that it now finally flushed, put shower heads in every cubicle and made every tap work as well. So doing our “final” walk around we were absolutely gutted to turn into the entrance and find one of the boys was stood there fiddling with the pipe work on the urinal. When we got up and near, it became quickly apparently either he, or someone before him, had completely taken the system apart and now it was merely flooding the floor instead. We were not at all happy and took him to the headmistress for him to explain what had happened. He claims he hadn’t done anything and it was already like that, but who really knows anything other than the fact that someone had broken the system, and to what end?

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Lewis (in the white shirt) is getting reprimanded by the head teacher (in orange) and another teacher (in green). Victor (one of our plumbers – left) gives his opinion on the matter as well.

We headed back to the bathroom to check for more damage and found a toilet cistern had also been taken apart and the plastic flushing mechanism was in pieces. Luckily it was all inside the cistern ready to be put back together again, but quite why this was done in the first place was beyond us.

Next up was the showers. These were the main focus of all the photos we took on our first visit as they were so disgusting and most of all, didn’t work. So we were happy that even though we hadn’t (yet) made them look any nicer, they did finally work. So, final checks were being done and one by one each shower is put through its paces and works fine. Then all of a sudden, one of them refused to work. The taps had been changed, the water was on and there were no leaks, so why did this one not work? It must be a blockage. After a short demolition job on the shower unit, it turned out that the pipe leading to the new shower head had somehow become blocked. At this stage, we still believed it was an innocent blockage, though. After all, water hadn’t run through the system in months, if not years, so there was bound to be some sort of build up or sediment. I’d already seen on many occassions the filthy water that would find its way out of a newly opened outlet. It would run a muddy red colour and then eventually clear. So, imagine our surprise and dismay that after a full 5 mins of jamming around in it with various wires and a even a screwdriver we finally get to what the blockage is. Its a piece of sponge. Small, but still large enough to have been compacted into the pipe. The shower head had been removed, packed with sponge and replaced as if nothing had ever occurred! Again, why on earth would this have happened in the first place? We were at a loss for words and together with the broken urinal and broken toilet cistern this was 3 of the 8 pieces in the one room out of action in 24 hours and this was meant to be our confirmation walk through that all was in full working order.
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So, why did the boys decide to vandalise their own toilets? It was something we found really hard to reconcile with at first, but when put into context, it was less about vandalism, and more to do with the lack of education of what they shouldn’t be doing. It was even more to do with the fact that these children are blind and do everything with their hands and not their eyes. Perhaps the toilet wasn’t filling up fast enough, or flushing fast enough, so they took it apart to try and feel their way to making it work. This, of course, actually broke it, but they perhaps didn’t know that at the time. The urinal hadn’t worked in over a decade, so perhaps the boys were being curious as to how it was now suddenly working and fiddled with it to try and find out. Again, using their hands as their eyes and breaking it in the process. None of this, however, explains why one of the boys decided to shove a piece of foam to stop the water running out of the shower completely.

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Nicole with Victor and Vincent, our smiling plumbers.

I know this sounds like a long moan about everything, but I do feel its really important to showcase the rough with the smooth. Its vital that you can see everything isn’t plain sailing but we don’t give up in the face of adversity. Your donations have allowed us the ability to do what we can, even if (at times) the children don’t really understand what it is that we are doing. We won’t stop helping them, we won’t walk away from them despite our threats to do exactly that. Everything we are doing is to benefit the children and its your donations that are helping to make that happen. If you’d like to help out and donate, then the link is here. I hope you see the benefit in helping others and any donation is gratefully accepted. 🙂

So after days of work, fixing everything left right and centre, running into massive overtime as a result of all the sabotage and vandalism, we are just about, finally there.

I hope.

Watch this space, but we hope that there is no more disappointment to come…

Friday morning we head to Harare to the mattress factory to finally get the mattresses final price and quantity ordered for the children. Fingers crossed that they can be tamper free and remain in one piece. Thank you for reading and thank you for your support.

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Round 2, Day 8, 9 & 10. Lets get to work…

Catching up on some really eventful days… We’ve been up at 7.30am each day and not back until after 6pm but we’ve been putting your donations to work.

At the start of the week, Jaros Jiri School for Blind Children had no running water, only 7 working lights out of around 60 across the whole of the living accommodation, there were leaks running left right and centre across the whole compound and the barriers to stop the children accidentally falling into the gutters were all rusted, rotten and missing.

In the last few days we have successfully restored ALL the running water to both the boys and girls bathrooms and the canteen kitchen. There are now shower heads in at least the boys bathrooms and we are working on the rest (there is an extreme shortage of shower heads in Zimbabwe apparently…). Some are still just an open pipe that pours a torrent of water over their head, but for now, this is like a dream come true compared to the buckets that they replace. We’ve also replaced all of the broken taps and fixed every leak and sorted an issue with water pressure in the girls bathrooms.

We replaced every broken light bulb in every room. We’d only ever visited during the days, so we’d not really taken much notice of the lighting before, but as we were walking out one day, I noticed one of the long strip bulbs that you usually get in office blocks and kitchens. It was so dusty and old, with the blackened edges that mean that it had blown, perhaps years ago. So we decided to check out all of them and found only a fraction of them actually worked anymore. I know what some of you may be thinking, ‘why would a school for the blind need lights anyway?’ and I suppose it is a fair question. Blindness isn’t a cut and dry condition. Many people can be “blind” but actually this is just a blanket term for a range of severe sight loss issues. One child’s level of blindness could mean having about 10% vision, but for another it could be that they have double that. Neither can fully function in the outside world, but more than anything we totally appreciate that their 10% would 100% need the lights to work at night, or their 10% will be 0%. Upon fully realising this, we made it a priority to fix them before the day was out, and before the darkness would set in. We are proud to say that your donations helped pay for so that the partially sighted no longer felt bed bound the moment the sun would set.
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The plumbers that we’ve been using have been a constant source of smiles and jokes. They try their hardest to speak in Shona with us, and we do our hardest to pretend we know what they are saying, but their smiles are infectious all the same. The fact that they are so constantly happy is in spite of the really sad news that one had only recently had a tragedy befall him. He has a 6week old daughter, but no wife. “God came for her after she was cut in the hospital so that I could have a daughter”. We didn’t want to ask any more, but I think we all know what had happened. He says that he has cried every day since it happened and when he talks about it, his perma-smile is nowhere to be seen. Now all that gets him through the day is work from dawn until dusk and the reward of a few beers after work with his twin brother. Its just another sad reminder that we are in a 3rd world country and that life is a lot harder here than in our relative comfort at home. I can’t possibly imagine going through what he has and still getting up each day to provide for his newborn child, but in a country where life expectancy is in the low 40’s, its just another story amongst millions.

Twin Plumbers
The infections smiles!

The steel workers we’ve been using have been a pretty mixed bag so far. A couple of days of really hard work, followed by some time wasting and trying to drag the job out. We’ve tried our hardest to keep them working but the moment our back is turned the go off and do what they want to do… So when the final day was coming to an end and they started packing up their equipment with the last job still unfinished, Nicole kicked into overdrive and gave them the kick up the arse that they needed. It was pretty impressive seeing her get stuck in like that and there was no confusion afterwards that unless they finished everything, they were not going to get paid for anything! So, an extra hour later and we finally had the barriers up around the dorms.


To put this into context, the barriers are the only thing that separates the corridor areas and 45cm drop into the gutter that the rain water should fall into. It’s impossible to say how many times children had fallen into the gutter and hurt themselves, but its now a thing of the past thats for sure. It seemed pretty straight forward to us that these should have never been left to rot and break, and should have been maintained and replaced as soon as they did break, but lots of things at Jaros Jiri defy logic. We can only identify ways that we can help, but it is a bit of a shock when its obvious that some things get ignored, when others don’t. The staff areas, for example, are nowhere near as bad as the areas that the children are asked to inhabit. This is a perfect example of why it is important to cut out the middle man and do charity work the yourself, get stuck in, or at the very least if you do want to donate, donate where you know for fact where the money is going to. If we see something wrong, we go and fix it. No point throwing money at those in charge and hope that the results are the ones that you want, you can never know what your funds will go towards. Its a sad reality that we have to think this way, but its one we came into with our eyes open and why we’ve always remained committed to helping the children directly and do whatever it is that we KNOW to be what is best for them. If you want to help us to help them, please donate here.

After our amazing friends even more amazing donation, we’ve established that we’ll finally be able to afford to replace every single one of the broken mattresses. We’ve still been looking around for a better price than the one that we’ve been given though of course. $45 each is 50% more than we’d paid only 10months before, but despite an extensive search and the promise of buying 150 of them all in one go this is actually as cheap as we can find and the final price will be $6,750… Its an eye-watering amount of money, but what price can you put to a good nights sleep? 150 good nights sleep over 300 days of term time, meaning 45,000 good nights sleep a year. When put in those terms, perhaps its really not a bad price at all… We’ll be looking to pull the trigger on these at some point next week and can’t wait to install them all while the kids are in class for a nice surprise at the end of the day. 🙂 This will mean the kids will no longer have to sleep on the floor under any circumstances.
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Aside from our work at Jaros Jiri, we finally confirmed with Mrs. Magama that we were going to start with a new, in-house tutor at Tariro Orphanage. Emmah Chizinga will be starting work on Monday morning at 8am and we’ll be working closely with her to make sure that her lesson plans work for each and every child in the house and that she is on hand to help with every aspect of the children’s education. English language will be a main focus, but home economics and all other subjects as well. These orphans may be without a family, but it shouldn’t mean that they shouldn’t have the best education possible. It will initially be a month trial, but we’ll leave the money for a years wages so that she can be paid in our absence should it prove a successful partnership. Her wages are being covered in their entirety by your donations, so if you think this is something that you’d like to help with please donate here.

After my last description of driving through Rimuka garnered so much attention (I received a ton of messages from people asking about it) we decided to try and take a few photos as we we drove through. We were very keen to not appear to be just taking photos because we were looking down on them or something, so we had to be a bit sneaky to get  what we could. Like anything in life, no photo can really do the reality justice but we hope that you get a good feel for the place.

And with that, we’ll leave you until the next instalment when we hope to have some more news of how your donations have been helping people who cannot help themselves. Last picture of the day, however, will be one that really took our breath away. We were driving through downtown Kadoma as the sun was beginning to set. In a country where dusk can be a beautiful, unaltered beauty the smoke from an open fire rose against the backdrop of the bustle of the local bus station, and the foreground of the potholed dirt road that ran through the centre of town. In one photo, I feel that we captured the essence of Zimbabwe and I hope you like it as much as we do. Thank you for reading and thank you for the support you have shown so far. 🙂
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Round 2, Day 5&6. Getting to grips with everything…

We are no longer feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead of us, but inspired with what changes we can make with what we have at our disposal. We’ve managed to raise a great amount of money over the last few days after the blog from day 4 and hope to put that to great use over the coming week or so. With the weekend getting in the way, progress was slowed somewhat, but we have still managed to set quite a few wheels in motion.

We returned to Jaros Jiri at the end of last week and met up with a pair of plumbers. We made a full list of every single item that needed fixing, every pipe that needed replacing and every leak that needed stopping. It was actually a lot more than we initially thought. There were entire sections of plumbing that had been removed and never replaced. No wonder the toilets didn’t work! We found even more leaks than we thought there were before and when the water was finally switched on so that we could test it, we found that the first shower in the boys bathroom would come on, but then never be able to be switched off… Hence, no water at all for the entire bathroom. It really is a shame to see and it never had to get to this point. Just some simple ongoing maintenance would have had these bathrooms in full serviceable order today, and forever. I suppose its easy to point this out, but if you barely have enough money to feed the children, then corners will be cut wherever and whenever they crop up. Its a shame all the same.

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A very good reason why  there was no water heading towards the bathrooms!

Upon further inspection of the broken roof at Jaros Jiri, we have established that it is in fact an asbestos roof. Yes, you heard correct; Asbestos. Thats the stuff you have probably heard about on the TV every now and again with some builder, or contractor or roofer suing their former employer for damages as they have fatal health problems directly related to working with asbestos. So replacement has to be the ultimate goal, but a quote of $20,000 for the entire job is entirely impossible at this stage… So unless anyone knows a millionaire who would like to put their hands in their pockets for this, I can only see that patching up the holes as the option we have to go for. We have a few numbers to call about getting a quote on fixing the roof and this we’ll actively try to make happen this week. Its summer here at the moment, so no rain, but its best to not hope on permanent good weather and get this fixed while we can. So watch this space.

 

We also mentioned fixing up the kitchen so that cooking could finally be done indoors. We are pleased to announce that today we won a bidding war on a local auction website to buy a large industrial sized gas hob set. JK, our host for this month and the reason we found out about the school in the first place, has also been raising money for Jaros Jiri and waiting for us to join forces to really get the school back on its feet. Its via JK that the gas cooker was found, bid on and purchased. It will be winging its way to the school by the end of the week. We’ve also procured a large industrial gas bottle that we’ll fill up and they will be cooking inside for the first time in years in no time. Along with the sinks all being fixed, and water being on, this will be an amazing change for the school kitchen staff and they will surely think that their christmases have all come at once!

So, tomorrow, Tuesday, we start in earnest. We will be collecting a batch of steel rods to go along with the cutting disc and welding rods that we already have from today and heading to Rimuka, the township next to Kadoma, to pick up 2 welders to come with us to Jaros Jiri. We’ve sorted and counted out 56 broken bed frames and we will get to work on them all day long until, hopefully, they are all done.

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56 broken bed frames will all be fixed in the coming days. Lets do this!

Tomorrow will also be the day that we’ll get our final price for the 150 mattresses that we need to buy. We are also buying an extra triple bunk bed for the orphanage so will factor these in when negotiating a total price. Fingers crossed we’ll be able to afford it all. With your help, hopefully we can. These children need them! Donate here if you’d like to help.

Finally for today, we visited the orphanage for an activities day. We were able to bring some donated colouring books and crayons. They went down a treat! We were also able to chat with Shelly and Wendy. They have been helping out at Tariro on, at the very least, a weekly basis since its inception. Wendy brings toys and games to help them have a little fun in their life, and Shelly is more hands on when it comes to their facilities. It was during a conversation with Shelly that we came to the conclusion that to get the education that the children deserve, we could potentially look at a full-time tutor. With wages being what they are, it is supposed that for a mere $200 a month, we could find a fully qualified, but currently unemployed, teacher who could take the youngest children in the morning and help the older children in the afternoons. Helping with homework, giving them much needed 1 on 1 tuition and, perhaps most importantly, teaching all the children English too. Can you help the children get an education so that despite being orphans, they could get the best start in life possible? If you think that you can help, please donate here.

 


All in all, its been a pretty hectic few days setting up everything for this week… Hopefully we can do you all proud, and by the end of the week we’ll have some amazing pics to show for it too. Until then, thank you for reading, thank you for continuing to donate and keep coming back to check in on us.

If you would like to donate, its never too late to get involved, so do it here.

Round 2, Day 4. Overwhelmed.

Sorry that we were not able to get a message out yesterday but by the time we’d finished for the day it was so late, and this blog takes so long to put together each day, that I decided to put days 3 and 4 together, but day 3 and what happened will have to wait until tomorrow because what happened today needs to be told, and it needs to be heard.

Now, we are not new to this game. We’ve seen more than our share of inhabitable spaces here in Zimbabwe, and we’ve not been shy of showing them to you either. Many of you reading this will have been following our story since last year and many of you will have been generous enough to donate have whatever you could to help towards what it is that we are doing here too. We have been proud to have raised many 1000’s of dollars and done more than we ever could have hoped to have done with that money. But today (day 4) I felt utterly desperate for the first time.

When we first entered into Tariro Orphanage this time last year we were shocked and we knew that we had to act. We wrote the linked blog piece and it went viral online. First amongst our immediate friends, and then to their friends and then beyond. What resulted was an outpouring of help, donations and love. Every time we were able to get internet access, the amounts donated went up and up and up. We were amazed and we were shocked that our simple blog had had that effect.


I’m not so presumptuous to assume that today’s blog will have anything like the same impact, although I really hope that it does, but honestly I don’t see how we can ever begin to help the children of Jaros Jiri School for Blind Children without your help.

What we have seen today has hit me, and hit me hard. When we walked into the orphanage last year it was a massive shock, but it was small (only 16 children) and it was all confined to a single house. It was doable, it was achievable, there was light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Walking into Jaros Jiri we were just overwhelmed by the sheer scale of what was in front of us and what was needed. Degradation everywhere we looked. Building after building after building and every one of them in a state of disrepair. Not even one single toilet worked in a school where 150 children board every night. Every shower is rendered completely useless owing to broken taps, no shower head and most importantly… no water pressure because of leaks everywhere you turn. Children washing themselves is basically a ritual of pouring cold water from a bucket over their own head as they stand in a shower cubicle akin to one in a derelict house. This place was once a beacon of care in the community and a top of the line, government paid, boarding school for those born without sight. Now its like an abandoned house where children are kept in appalling conditions.

We were shown around the entire school, starting with the bathrooms. It was the first place we came to and looking around this one single bathroom alone, I could already see that it almost made no sense to even start trying to do something here, it was that bad. Looking around I saw so many things that needed to be fixed, replaced or removed entirely. Looking around, my heart literally sank and I suddenly felt incredibly depressed. Selfishly I felt depressed for myself as I was subconsciously hoping to be like a saviour riding in on a white horse to rescue them from their poverty with a few simple fixes here and there. Instead I was just hit by the feeling of helplessness of it all and for that I was instantly ashamed; this shouldn’t have been about me at all. We are here to help and we MUST do whatever it is that we can to help. I tried to forget these thoughts as we carried on our tour, tried to be more positive, tried to think of the things that we could do rather than the many that we simply can’t.

Next up was the boarding rooms. Up to 20 children in each room. Every bed worse than the next. I had seen photos from a previous post on facebook regarding what was needed at Jaros Jiri, but I imagined that the photos were taken for effect and that there is no possible way that every dorm room could be as bad as I’d been led to believe. I was was right. They were not as bad as the photos had shown me. They were much worse.

Every single mattress on every single bed needed throwing away. The cheap foam that had been used too many years ago to count was so thin now that they felt as though they were sleeping directly on the broken frames below. The previously waterproof mattresses were all cracked, torn and useless. No level of hygiene could be achieved with these mattresses, let alone comfort. What on earth were we going to be able to do with this place?


It was at this point I looked up to see various holes in the ceiling. I walked over to them and looked inside… Yep, there it was. Exactly what I didn’t want to see.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the sunshine. We live in Ibiza for most of the year and we have to love it! But I don’t want to look up into the ceiling and see the sun shining through the holes in the roof. Of all the times you want to see the sun shine, this is not it. Nearly 40 years after it was opened, the roof had never been replaced or even properly maintained. In the wet season, the rain would clearly pour into this entire building, onto the beds and soaking the children. The same feeling that hit me for six in the bathroom, hit me again… 150 children, 150 beds, 150 mattresses, broken leaking roof, not enough money. My previous attempts to brush away the dark thoughts were thwarted yet again and I stood there speechless.

Next up, we were shown to the kitchen. The facilities showed their age… ancient and never been renovated or maintained. The cold storage facility looked like it hadn’t been used in decades and when we opened the door to look inside the vilest of stenches fell out like a thick fog. The electric cooking pots that would take hours to heat up and use more electric in a day than a family home would in a week, had been abandoned in place of an extra large iron cauldron outside. This is where they would prepare every meal. Another look around at the many sinks in the canteen kitchen again showed how old everything was. Not even one of the taps worked with many not even there anymore. So there was no running water to top off that there was no usable cooking equipment and no fridges… This kitchen had become just a room where the food from outside was plated up for the children. The sheer scale of what was needed to help fix this situation was again evermore apparent. What on earth could we do??

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The sole cooking facilities for 150 children and staff.

Eventually I was able to say to Nicole: “It’d be like putting a bandaid on a broken arm. We’d be crazy to even attempt such a huge undertaking, right?”

It was of course a rhetorical question. We will attempt. We cannot ignore. We will do our best. But at that very moment I didn’t even know where to start…

Imagine, just for a moment, that you are blind. I know that if you are reading this the conventional way, this concept will be alien to you, but once you have finished this paragraph just close your eyes for a moment and let your imagination run with you. You are blind, you have never known anything other than darkness and your family cannot take care of you. The care you desperately need is more than they could ever provide. You know it, they know it. You are sent away from all that you know, to board with 149 other blind children. Your bed is so broken that you sleep on the floor. You cannot use the toilets as they do not work. You cannot have a shower and have to pour a bucket of cold water over yourself instead. The roof leaks in the room that you share with 19 others and every time you hear the rain outside you know that everything you own is now wet and your bed is too. You begin to dread the sound of rain hitting the roof.

Now, those of you about to close your eyes and imagine this, all of this has happened in the pitch black. You can’t switch the lights on to help you. You can’t switch on a torch to find a better way or move to a dryer patch. You are in the darkness and that darkness will never end. The only plus that you can imagine is not having to actually see how bad your surroundings are. You’d know they were bad, sure, but you’d never see just how bad.

Open your eyes. Nothing that you see in front of you can be as bad as is in front of these children every day of their existence here.

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Broken beds are stacked up useless in a side room

Now, hours later, writing this blog, we’ve come up with the beginning of a list that we hope to plough through in the coming weeks. Some things, like the leaking roof, are simply too large for us to take on and although we would love to make it happen, we simply do not have the funds to try. Perhaps we can look to fill some holes as a temporary fix, but the blocks are old and they need replacing entirely.

So with your help (you can donate here), we aim to:

1) Replace ALL of the mattresses. Yes, all 150 of them. This can ONLY happen with your help. Going on the price that we got last year for each mattress for the orphanage, we are looking at around $30 each. This means $4500 in mattresses alone. Can it be done? Well the simple answer at this moment is no, not really, but I’m hoping for those reading this to dig deep and help. Lets please see if we can make it happen. Can you donate to help us with this? Every penny counts and we have a lot of children to help…

2) Repair each and every bed. We have already arranged for a welder to come with us one day next week (after we have made a full list of beds that need fixing and the amount of steel and welding rods that will require) and spend an entire day making the bed bases usable again. This shouldn’t cost more than $150, for all materials, time and transport. Can you donate towards this amount or is someone reading this feeling extra generous today and thinks that they would like to personally take care of this amount to help the children?

3) Fix the toilets, the showers and the water leaks so that they can use the bathrooms with some dignity. Now, cosmetically I don’t see how we can begin to make them look nice with the money available to us, but we can damn sure try to make the toilets at least flush and sinks turn on with taps that work! We are meeting a team of plumbers tomorrow to price up this work. It could be prohibitively expensive, but we can only try and will do the most we can for the money we have. Can you donate to help us with this? Every penny counts and we have a lot of children to help…

4) Arrange for some sort of indoor gas cooking facilities, with sinks with running water. We’ll also do our best to fix the cold room… But perhaps even that is a money pit and the money would be better spent elsewhere. Maybe you fancy yourself as a bit of a chef and therefore can’t imagine cooking for 150 children in a cauldron, outside and over an open fire every day and would like to donate to help us with this specifically?

Its a short list, but its a big one all the same…

I was about to say that I don’t want to beg, but then I felt the need to correct myself and say f*#k it… I’m begging for your help. We can’t do this alone and although we have donation money with us already, it WILL NOT be enough to do what we need to do here and at the orphanage at the same time. We desperately need your help and every penny donated will go towards helping those less fortunate than yourselves.

With that I leave you humbled and hoping that this blog has reached an audience enough to make a difference. Please, even if you can’t donate today please share, please tag others, please like it on facebook, please do anything you can do spread the word. We need your help, more than we’ve ever needed it before.

Thank you for reading, thank you for following and I hope that you keep reading after this too. We will write all about what we are able to do with your donations and we hope you think that what we are doing is worth it. Dignity is priceless, we hope you agree and these children deserve that at the very least.

Christmas gifts for those less fortunate than you…

Its almost Christmas time here in the UK. Me and Nicole are freezing our arses off working and saving up so that we can go back to Zimbabwe at the end of the month. We’ve had such a hectic year with one thing and another, plus a wedding to plan and to put into action, so our fundraising has been pretty minimal… Its disappointing looking back at it ourselves if I’m honest, but we have still raised around €1000 this year and we still have some money left in the tank from last year to work with when we get there, so we do hope to hit the ground running all the same.

One thing about being in England while the Xmas season is in full swing, the familiar songs are on the radio all the time and this one by John Lennon hit home a little bit recently:

So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong

He may be speaking about something very different to what I hear when it comes on, but it certainly mentions caring for the young, the weak and the poor… It also asks “What have you done?”. That straight away speaks to me and what we are trying to do in Zimbabwe at the Tariro Orphanage and the Jaros Jiri School for the Blind. We are going 15,000km away and for an entire month to help the weak, the young and the poor and we only ask for your help in giving us the tools with which to make it all happen. We only ask that you donate so that we can do all of the work on your behalf.

Below is a list of just a few of the items that we’d like to purchase and can do on your behalf if you’d like to do so. If these are out of your price range, then of course ANY donation is gratefully accepted and will go towards any number of things that are desperately needed.

On top of all that, we are asking that anyone looking for a gift for us (or if you are just feeling the Christmas spirit) that you will instead donate to Tariro Orphanage, Kadoma that Nicole and I will be once again working at for the month of January in Zimbabwe. There are 18 orphans from 1 ½ years old to 17 years old. All of them need help.

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Many of you reading this will have already donated last year when we first went, or donated when we did our many charity fundraisers, you may have even donated when it was my birthday, or when it hit the headlines about be being attacked whilst out there. So yes, I understand that you may feel you have already done your bit, and thats perfectly fine. But if you wanted to do something for Xmas this year that you could be proud of, then this could be it:
 
€20 buys a child an outfit from the market that ISN’T 2nd hand for a change
€30 pays for them to attend school for a semester (there are three per year and 18 children)
€50 pays for the electric for a month
€4000 pays for a bore hole, water tank and pumps so that they can have running water for the first time
 
Can you help with any of these? These children need your help.
 
We’ll also be trying to help for the first time at Jaros Jiri School for Blind Children. There:
 
€30 will buy a new mattress (most of the 150 beds haven’t been upgraded since the 80’s)
€75 will buy a new bed
€2000 will pay for the renovation of the communal bathrooms so they don’t look like a squat any more…

 
Can you help with any of these perhaps?
 
If the answer is yes, please follow this link and donate. If you leave a not as to what it is that you would like to donate towards in the comments, I will send you a personal message showing that being implemented. If you leave it blank, it will go into the pot and be spend as best we can and the story of what we do will be (as it was last year) on this blog page. Again, the links will be in the comments. Thank you if you made it to the end of this message and Merry Christmas! 
 
PLEASE SHARE, PLEASE LIKE AND PLEASE TAG… please help getting this post seen and spreading the word. Thank you!

Days 41-43. The final touches.

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 🙂

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Can’t make out what this is a picture of? Thats the point… its a super dark bedroom at midday as the blistering African sun burns down outside the room.

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.

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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.

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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.

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The children of Tariro in their new chairs as donated by Liz. Also, you can see the new curtains behind them, and the old broken sofa and the bare floor they had before the carpet and new sofas were brought in.

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. 🙂

Days 34- 40. Progress and setbacks but so little time to report.

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.

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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.
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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:
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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.
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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.
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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. 🙂

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Nicole with Miss O (in yellow) and one of her staff stood in the garden that double up as a playground for the children.

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.

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Measuring up for the new class room.

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!

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My dodgy drawings were enough for local skilled craftsmen to make the bunk beds, now I just hope that the are enough for the shelves too.

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.
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