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 3. Day 3 and reaction to Day 4.

Before I get to what we got up to on day 3, I’d like to address the response we had to yesterday’s blog.

I would really like to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart and Nicole would too. Since this time yesterday we’ve managed to receive over €800 (around $900) in donations and the promise of more to come. If you are one of the many waiting to donate, thank you for contacting us to say that you are going to and we look forward to using it when it arrives! We also received an amazing offer from a couple of awesome jewellers (one of which I went to school with many many moons ago!) in Scotland who are going to hold a sale on our behalf with all proceeds going to the Jaros Jiri School for the Blind.

So, if you would like to donate funds (and we need all the help we can get) this is the link to do that: Donate.

But if you’d like to help up in another way, you can follow the links below to buy an item of jewellery knowing that the money will be going to the same place. Once they sell out (and their stuff is amazing, so I know it will) please don’t be too disappointed and decide not to donate at all, but until then, this is a great way to buy a gift for someone, or even for yourself, but be donating to charity at the same time!

Hannah Louise Lamb Jewellery

Sally De Lasteyrie

Please check out their pages, like them and show them some support too. They haven’t asked me to say this and are not doing it for promo at all, so all the more reason why they deserve to be acknowledged for donating their time, expertise and beautiful handmade jewellery for a good cause.

So, once again, thank you from the bottom of our hearts and we hope to do you proud with what we are able to achieve with your donations.

I’ll touch on what we have been able to achieve today (day 5) on the next blog, but until then I have to keep you up to date with what we got up to on day 3, before we’d even set foot in Jaros Jiri.

Last year we spent a lot of time with “Miss O” and her nursery school. For those that didn’t read last years blog, she is a local legend having taught just about everyone we had met on our first visit, over a period of many decades. Recent times had not been easy on her or her school and we were happy to help them both back on track and provide the care and education her children craved.

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

It was there that your donations were able to fit running water to her house and school. We were also able to build a new classroom in our last days and hoped to return to see it in full action. Unfortunately the class room hadn’t been built to the standards we’d been promised, nor had the wood been treated in the way that it should have been and it had begin to twist, break and holes were clearly evident on all 3 of the walls that we’d paid to construct. It was a bit disheartening to say the least.

A cursory look around, however, made it clear that although the problem was a noticeable one, it was one that could be fixed relatively easy. I’m gonna have to get out my hammer and nails, and use some of the left over wood from last time to personally fix what had been done badly when it was made. Then after that we’ll get our famous blue overalls on again to undercoat, paint and varnish the wood so that it is protected and can be used as a classroom for many years to come.


We were also able to return to the orphanage to meet once again with Mrs. Magama and, of course, play with the children. We also took the opportunity to decorate the bedrooms with some Barcelona FC posters for the boys, and luminous nighttime stars for the girls. Something simple to change their surroundings as this was now to be their forever home. A couple of skipping ropes also went down a treat with the girls.
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Meeting with Mrs. Magama (the saint who is responsible for these children even being here in the first place and not on the street) was amazing. Her smile lights a room and her kind heart is obvious to everyone from the moment you meet her. In the months since we last met, she has had the personal tragedy of losing someone very close to her, but she is still here working and doing what she can for others and for that we applaud her.

Speaking with her, we were finally able to confirm that we’ll start getting bids for a hot water geyser so that the children can have hot showers for the first time ever. We also decided to add something else on to our list of things we’ll be doing at the orphanage in the form of another triple bunk bed like the ones we made last time. There have been a few further additions to the roster of children and now they number 18 and need the extra space. We’ve already been to the same steel worker that we used last time, using local skilled labour, with locally sourced materials too. We feel its important to support the local community with all our endeavours, and this is vital to support the local economy and is another way that your charity money will go further and support the families of the workers making the bunks.

We also picked up the kitchen sink so that we could take it and have a stand custom fitted so that it can be installed as soon as we get a chance… Final thing we managed to put in place, was a plan to get the electric connected on Monday. The local electric company received over $3500 as a connection fee back in September, and promised to connect within 1 month. That never happened and the house is currently without power. We are now promised that Monday it will finally happen. Watch this space!

Until then, we have Jaros Jiri and its 150 blind children in our minds and I’ll bring you all up to speed on what we’ve managed to put in the pipeline so that we can hit the ground running on Monday. We are happy that we’ve been able to make a start already and we WILL do all of our donors proud. Watch this space and its been a truly amazing 24hours with all the responses to yesterdays blog page. Thank you.

If you’d like to donate, please follow this link.

Round 2, Day 2. Return to the orphanage.

We woke up bright and early with a list of things we needed to do today. First up was to organise transport so that we could move freely during our time here. Now, many who read last years blog (and yesterdays in fact) will remember the shocking situation that Zimbabwe found itself with roadblocks stopping innocent motorists and demanding money for the tiniest of infractions (if indeed any had occurred at all!). Anything that was remotely on the edge when it came to roadworthiness would result in fines, just for driving around. So, it was a welcome bit of news that these roadblocks no longer existed. Since the change in President late last year, they were removed over night. This meant that we now had access to a new supercar. Picture is included below.

The new whip

So now we were equiped with an absolute beast of a new car, it was time to head out and to see the children for the first time since March. A lot had changed for them since then. Obviously we’d been able to change their day to day living conditions in their previous house and bring a bit of joy into their lives with everything that your donations were able to pay for last time around, but behind the scenes much more had happened and they were finally in a new home! Its not finished yet, and there is very little in the way of funds left to complete it, but it is a home. A forever home.


We’d love to be able to take the credit for some of this, but in truth Andy (who walked with us in our Ibiza north to south sponsored walk) has been toiling away for years raising money in and around his home town of Stevenage (twinned with Kadoma) and via his architecture firm there and this newly built home is down to him. We are proud to be a part of it and lend our hand. We are proud that the furniture we bought, the beds we built, the cooking facilities we installed into the last house all made a straight transfer over to the new home. This is all with your donations, and if you want to continue to help us help them, please follow this link.

For those that remember what the old house looked like, you will all agree that this new one is a vast improvement. This is where the children will grow up and become adults. This will be their home until they go on to their own lives with their own families and thinking back to that first visit to see them last year we never could imagine that they would be in a place like this.

All said, they still need some vital elements to turn this house into a home, most obviously; electricity. We’ll aim to get this connected and fully functioning by the time we leave. The fridge/freezer we bought them last year sits useless until we can connect the house. The children do their homework by candle light and their days mainly have to revolve around the rise and setting of the sun. Can you donate to help us get the electricity connected?

One thing that really hit home to us this time around was the lack of hot water. They have a nice new bathroom, but can’t really take advantage of it while having to live with cold water. We will look into installing a solar powered water geyser to give them a constant, and free, supply of hot water so that they can shower, bathe and wash as we would all take for granted. Can you donate to help us get hot water installed?

Another improvement we’ll try to implement is to install a kitchen sink. There is a tap, but that simply pours into a bucket and is distributed from there. Can you imagine your kitchen without its sink? Nor can we. Can you donate to help us get a kitchen sink installed?
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After all the work in assessing what lay in store for us for the next month, it was time to play with the kids and bring them a present. Having brought 237 pairs of sunglasses with us, there were still quite a few spare to go around and the kids loved them! We’d been donated a few that would be perfect for the youngest children, along with the rest that were best of adults. We brought two options, a bright orange pair and a black mirrored pair. To my surprise, it was the black pair that proved almost universally popular! If you donated glasses at all, these are the smiling faces that you have helped create. Thank you!

Nicole also had a great day back with the children:

“Everyone would ask me how I was feeling about going back to Tariro and my response was always ‘I will go in the same way I did last time and not even think about how the kids will react to us, whether they are surprised or even remotely excited’. I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

I was wrong. We pulled up and Hilda tried to open the gate for us to drive though and into the new grounds. I felt hot and nervous and almost felt like I wanted to just get out the car. I couldn’t wait and just wanted to hold them all and see how much they had grown in the 11 months. The smiles on their faces was amazing. MacDaniel came running over with his usual cheeky grin from ear to ear with Thomas not far behind. Then suddenly all of them were there and they all gave me hugs and I felt very at ease.

It was so nice playing with them and letting them take pics of themselves with my phone again.

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We gave them some donated sunglasses (thanks everyone!) and that went down a treat. Even Macanaca was strutting around like a 1 year old supermodel in her new eyewear. How very different to the little malnutritioned baby we remember seeing sitting on the floor unable to move.

 

We were able to have a walk around the new house and its certainly a step up with grounds where they are able to eventually grow their own fruit, veg and even have herb garden. Seeing the change that has happened in their lives over the past year has be such a rewarding experience and I’m so proud that we were able to be a part of it.”

All in all, it was a very rewarding afternoon. We have our new list of things to do and we’ll be starting with the list as soon as we can. Thank you for following the blog, check back tomorrow as we’ll be visiting the Jaros Jiri School for the Blind. We expect to see a lot of work needed and that’s where your donations will come in and help. If you haven’t yet, click on the link and see if you can spare something, anything at all. 🙂

 

 

 

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!

Day 45. “You have changed our lives” & Goodbye.

This is it. The time has come.

It almost feels surreal to think that under 2 months ago, we’d never even set foot in Africa, let alone could have imagined how much we’d feel so at home there. It also feels surreal to imagine how much we have come to care about people who were strangers to us those same 2 months ago. Quite how we’ve got here, and how we have travelled on this journey is an absolute privilege; and I know I speak for both of us in that. To feel the warmth and friendship from a group of children who had been given so little, but have so much to give was a tearful, emotional rollercoaster of an experience and one I wouldn’t swap for the world. Making the friends we have along the way is also an absolute privilege.

So, how was our final day in Zimbabwe? Hectic.

We imagined that we might have a few moments in the mid afternoon where we’d be able to chill for a moment, but that proved impossible. We thought we’d be able to get a semi-decent nights sleep before our 40hour journey via 6 flights and 4 different countries, but that, too, proved allusive. But what we did manage to do was to pack our final day with so many memorable moments that I don’t think this blog will ever be able to do it all justice. I know what you are probably thinking: “Yeah yeah, it can’t have been like that really” but it was and its hard to put it all into words even though I’m going to try.

Our final day began relatively late at 9am, and we headed straight into town to pick up a few last minute items for the orphanage and to drop the books off with Great Hood Academy. We’d had them since last week but we fell victim of Zimbabwe’s schools having half days on Fridays and we missed our chance that day so had to wait until after the weekend.

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Headmaster and teachers from Grade 1 & 4 inspecting their new books.

“You don’t know how much you have affected the children’s lives, this is amazing”.

Handing over a massive box of books to the headmaster, Mr. Gift Bere, felt like being Santa Claus for the day. He and the teachers knew that this day was coming, just like children do in the days leading up to Christmas, but nothing quite prepares you for how well received a present can be, even if you know for a fact that they want what you have got them.

Wide beaming smiles, hand shakes and even hugs accompanied the introduction of each and every book from its packaging. I never knew that anyone could be so happy to see books like this, but those that have been reading our reports since day one will know just how desperate they have been for them. We could, and definitely should, have gotten the books much earlier in our journey but the sheer scale of the work facing us at the orphanage took over our thoughts since the day we walked in the front door. I wish we’d not left it until the last day, but its just how it happened unfortunately and we feel a little guilty for that.
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Every time a new teacher came in to check out the new books, they all had the same emotional look of joy on their faces. This truly is a school where the teachers care and want only the best for the children enrolled with them, and seeing their reactions was confirmation that we’d done a great thing. We’ve only been able to do this with YOUR help though. This donation of books was exactly what we thought we were coming here to do in the first place so it felt amazing to finally help affect children’s lives in such an easy and obvious way, but a way that equates to many months worth of a teachers salary in books. This is what your donations have done and if you have donated, you should feel proud. If you haven’t yet, then its never too late as we are committed to returning as soon as we can, and we are also committed to buying some new sports equipment for them (remotely after leaving) in the coming weeks too. So your donations WILL still have an effect.

After saying our tearful goodbyes to the teachers and hearing so many kind words from them about what we have done, it was time to say goodbye to the children too. This is where the first of the truly eye-opening moments of our final day happened and one I’ll try my best to convey here.

“Do you want to say goodbye to the children?” Mr Bere asked.

“Of course” replied Nicole.

Secretly though, I was looking at the clock and wondering if we had time. I was also worried and wondering if they would actually really care that much to want to say goodbye or if we’d done the important farewell’s with the teachers and the children might have just been oblivious to us leaving. I am so so happy to say that I was massively wrong. I was wasn’t expecting what happened, and not just with one class or a certain few children, but with them ALL.

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The children waving goodbye for the last time.

When you receive a hug, its really a quite intimate thing, isn’t it? Well, if its done right it is meant to be anyway. Of course, you can also do the emotionless, looking away as you do it and making it as quick as possible type of hug too, but we’re not talking about those kinds of hugs. These children are too young to know that kind. So when they hug you, it really means something. But when the ALL hug you, all at the same time the feeling is absolutely amazing and one that I knew I’d have difficulty in describing when it came to it here today. They know why we were at their school. They also know that we are doing it by way of no charity, nor church group, just two people wanting to help make the world a better place in whatever small way we can. Reacting to that when you are child doesn’t need words when 100’s of hugs are more than capable of doing all the talking you need.

“Can I give you a hug?” said the first child.

I thought it was just a particularly keen, maybe slightly odd student who liked to give hugs. Honestly, I was like “ok, sure” and didn’t think much of it, but then everyone got up. Many then piled into a group hug, others waited until it was over and then came for an individual hug, some even came back for 2nd and 3rd attempts. I really wasn’t ready for how that’d make me feel. I felt so proud that our small efforts and a bit of our time created such a feeling of warmth and affection in them. It just goes to show that all children want in their lives is your time and best efforts and they reward you with unconditional love. I’ve never before felt how I felt at that moment, and it was a feeling that was repeated as we went from class room to class room.

It was like there was a memo out and that they had all read it that morning or something, but of course this must be more of a local custom than anything else. Saying goodbye and thank you with honest affection .

They all wanted to hug us and to wish us well on our journey home and to tell us that they couldn’t wait for us to return. Nicole spent a whole extra day at the school with the kids whilst I was in Harare shopping for building materials, so I was expecting to see her get even more attention than I was getting, and I wasn’t wrong. My own group hug had only just petered out when I was able to get to my camera and take a photo of her here:933d8a22-4bd0-499f-b1ae-29ca1df82686

Pictures, as the say, speak a thousand words and you can see in their faces (and Nicole’s) how much happiness and emotion was in the room at that very moment.

With that, we left Great Hood Academy for the final time and to collect a few things in town ready for our proposed meal with the orphans at Tariro Orphanage that evening. We’ll be back, of course, and we’ll stay in touch with all the teachers in the coming months too. We can’t wait to hear how they are all getting on with the new text books and will keep on blogging as and when we get more information. I’d love to see exam results up on last year after our small input.

Making our way to the local take away to collect 60 pieces of chicken, 2 portions of fries and 12 litre of soft drink we were a mix of anticipation and trepidation. We so wanted our last day with the children to be special, but also didn’t want it to be a sad day for them with us leaving. We didn’t want them to feel abandoned by us, or that we were just another group of people that were leaving them. That’s been the biggest fear for us this whole time. How do we get involved, without them becoming dependent on us? I don’t mean dependent like they don’t have milk unless we deliver it to them, but dependent emotionally. We were acutely aware that every single one of these children had felt extreme loss of one kind or another and we desperately didn’t want to add to that.

Despite our best efforts though, we couldn’t help but fall in love with them all and have spent more time with them than with anyone else. These last 2 weeks or so, though, we’ve consciously decided to ration out our time with them to cut down any potential of it feeling that we suddenly just don’t show up anymore.

Anyways, we decided we’d try to recreate  market & restaurant our day out with them a little bit and brought them fried chicken. It went down such a storm last time that we were sure that it would be a sure fire hit again. It wasn’t.

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Everyone stuggling to eat the food we’ve brought…

We’d asked for the house mother to not cook for them that night as we had a surprise, but dirty pots in the kitchen and full bellies told a different story. She was adament that they hadn’t eaten yet, but the faces of children don’t lie… and they seemed to be saying: “we’re stuffed from dinner and can’t possibly eat another thing but we’ll try”… What a disaster! Still, we saw the funny side after the first initial few minutes. Same thing happened with the tray of cakes we’d brought them… A look of delight, followed by one of: “Where am I going to fit all that into by belly now!?”

So, dinner wasn’t what we’d hoped it would be and to top it off, the 3 youngest ones all had a chesty cough. Thomas in particular seemed to be on the receiving end of some serious flu like symptoms. We brought medicine for them all, but it still meant that he wasn’t in the mood to play. He simply sat on my lap in silence as I stroked his head and hugged him. He stayed like that for most of the evening. I tried to make him laugh, but he remained virtually expressionless. Its such a shame that this had to be our last day together after all the fun we’ve had these last few weeks. He loved to sit on my shoulders, or play tickle chase round the house and garden for hours, but today he just sat there looking sorry for himself as he coughed and coughed. Poor little fella.

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Thomas, seriously under the weather.

In the end, he fell asleep on me and we had to put him to bed early.

I wasn’t able to actually say goodbye to him properly. I waved and he waved as he was carried to the bedroom, but it didn’t feel like a real goodbye. I wanted a hug or something, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe it’s better this way. It doesn’t feel like it was right at that moment, but maybe its better for him to not fully understand that I’m going away and won’t be back for a long time. I’ve become so used to him coming running to me to be picked up into my arms every day as we arrive, that I hope that he doesn’t miss me too much when I’m gone. I hope that he’s not quite old enough to fully understand what is happening and that one day will blur into the next until I’m back again.

I will miss him though. I’ll miss his laugh and his smile and I wish I could take him with us. I never knew I could feel this way about anyone. I suppose it’s the feeling I’ll have when Nicole and I have our own children. Its an addictive feeling, though, that’s for sure, and one I feel privileged to have felt for all the children of Tariro, but particularly Thomas. Writing these feelings down here right now as I’m sat on the plane back to Madrid, its making me well up. I didn’t think that this would happen to me, even though Nicole worried that she’d feel like this after we left.

With Macdaniel & Thomas all in bed early to try and sleep off their sickness, we presented the house with our final gift. We hoped it would go down better than the food, but we couldn’t imagine exactly how well! It was like all their Christmas’ had come at once.

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An early look at the photo frame as we decided which ones to include.

We reminded them, through Mrs. Magama who’d come to help us translate, that we’d been taking photos ever since first stepped foot in the orphanage. Quite what they thought about us doing this is another matter, but it wasn’t lost on them that we’d been taking photos for nearly 6 weeks now. They don’t really have a clue about the blog, so they didn’t really know what the photos we for. So they were absolutely delighted when we presented to them a picture frame with around 20 different photos of them all that we’d selected. Producing that picture frame was like setting off a bomb in the house. They crowded round the frame and couldn’t get enough of it as they laughed and pointed at themselves. I took a few photos of them as they looked, and as it was quite dark in the room at the time, I put the flash on and as it went off, they all looked in my direction and laughed at me taking yet more photos! I’d have to say that this was the best group reaction of any we’ve had since we arrived.

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Crowding round the photo frame to see.

They told us that they now have a home that they can be proud of, sleep in beds that they can get a good nights sleep in and feel part of a family again, not just a collection of children nobody wants. All of this deserved to be commemorated and through the photos we could see that they were all now happy, perhaps for the first times in their lives and its all down to the donations we’ve received and put into action. In that moment, they could see all the happy moments they’d had and that we’d captured, and live them again. It will also give us the chance to not be forgotten. We are in some of the photos too, so hopefully this will help the younger children to remember something of us so that we are not strangers when we come back.
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We also brought them some new shelves for each and every one of the children. A space to call their own and stack their own clothes, books, toys etc… They are moveable and will follow them to their next home (more to be revealed about that at a later date). The girls also particularly liked it that I was able to bring them a mirror for their bedroom for the first time too. They’d never had a mirror before and now they have one in their room so they can look their best each and every day.

Finally, it came time to say goodbye to the children. We wanted to leave on a high, so chose only a few minutes after the picture frame was revealed to make our exit. They decided to sing us not one, but two songs. One in broken English, and one in Shona. I had a smile from ear to ear, firstly entertained by them, then touched by the whole situation. That smile soon became very difficult to maintain as I realised that this would be the last time we’d see them for a while and realising the love that was behind those songs for us. I looked at Nicole and she looked at me and we exchanged a moment that didn’t require words to explain how we felt. They have said that we’ve come in and changed their lives, that we have given them a life, but in actual fact it’s a two way street. They have changed us and how we see the world. They have changed us and how we see ourselves. They have made us want to become better people and whether they realise it or not, we have only them to thank for it.

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The children stand to sing to us.

Zimbabwe has changed us forever and we’ll never be the same again. We can’t wait to come back and see everyone again. Our friends, the children, the teachers, everyone. All have played an amazing part in our journey and going back to work next week isn’t at all what I’m looking forward to be doing, but that’s life. The summer is on its way and the work that allows us to have half the year off so we can do these kinds of things is about to start again for another season. Zimbabwe will be on our minds, though, and we’ll be back.

Finally, thanks to you for reading, thank you for following, thank you for donating and thank you for your support these 2 months through thick and thin. This isn’t the last post, but it’s the last one written while still away. So watch this space. Until then, please if you would like to donate, here is where you click to do it. ALL money given goes to these children, NOTHING goes to middlemen or management. If you’d like to help, its only click away.

Nicole says:

“While Nathan was getting the last bits for our orphanage wish list to be completed I sat with Hildar, the house mother, and chatted for a while. She said the kids pray for us every day and they will really miss us. I tried to explain how much each and every one of them has changed the way we look at things and how we are, so I think in all fareness we got a lot out of these 7 weeks too.

For me, it was looking outside my bubble. The amount these kids had gone through and the fact they still have love to give is amazing. I also explained that they were our first priority and we will continue to stay in touch. I told her that Monday was to be our last day and the sadness on her face made me see how much we are going to be missed.
I felt like MacDaniel could sense something was happening and he wouldn’t leave my side. Every time I got up he would follow me. He finally fell asleep on me he was taken to bed. Thomas wasn’t himself either. He was ill, coughing a lot and also fell asleep on Nathan. It was a sad way to have to say our final goodbyes.

Mrs Magama came with us and she hugged me to say goodbye and I could feel her getting emotional. With that, tears came streaming down my face as well. I didn’t want to cry in front of the children; I didn’t think it was fair, but then they each have me a hug and I kissed each and every one of them and told them I wouldn’t forget them. One of the older girls hung on to me and was crying into my shoulder. I said to her be good and I promised that we’d be back.

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MacDaniel feeling under the weather too.


I think when first arriving I thought we would get to know these kids and care for them but it’s so much more than that now for me. I love each one of them with their crazy fun happy selves. I went through all my pictures and videos I had taken of them all and we sat for hours going through them. They were all talking and laughing and joking around about them. Of course, I have no idea what they were saying, but all the same it was nice to have a great day with them all and when we presented them with the picture frame they could see some of those same pics and they loved it. They sang us a song and it was overwhelming. They gave us a little gift from them all, but to be honest the gift was us getting to know them . It was time to say goodbye, or as I like to say “See you later”. Goodbye seems so official, and with that MacDaniel came out of his bed room and wanted me to pick him up one last time. That was the hardest thing I have had to do. It was almost like the very first day all over again.

What an amazing experience it has truly been and its something that will stay with us forever.

If you want to donate for the the children’ on going care, please click here to donate.”

Thanks!

 

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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